The view from the bottom
Moncton has laid the foundation, but could need luck to complete rebuild
While the QMJHL’s trading period sparked much discussion about the league’s contenders, perhaps an equally interesting story is the Moncton Wildcats who reside at the bottom of the standings.
Cats’ general manager Roger Shannon conducted a massive fire sale over the holidays — but will Moncton reap the rewards in the future?
Shannon opened the trade window by dealing his top three marketable forwards, the Klima twins (Kelly and Kevin) as well as Cameron Askew. The defense was depleted on the same day (Dec. 18) when Adam Holwell and Zach Malatesta were pushed to Bathurst. Then, just prior to Christmas, Moncton received a thirdround pick for stud forward Manuel Wiederer, whose value was limited, occupying both an import and 20-year-old slot. The tank would really be emptied after Christmas when veterans Lane Cormier, William Bower, and Kody Gagnon were also shipped out — all players getting significant ice-time in New Brunswick but figuring as depth players on their new clubs.
Coach Darren Rumble’s club set a dubious record on Jan. 27, blowing a 4-0 lead against the Québec Remparts to drop a 5-4 decision in a shootout — the first 13-game losing streak in Wildcats history (since extended to 15 games). Heading into this weekend at 13-32-3, some wonder if the record 27game losing streak of the 197576 Shawinigan Dynamos is in jeopardy.
In recent years, two clubs have produced losing runs that rank in the top five in Q history, both in 2010-11. That season Baie-Comeau dropped 25 straight games while RouynNoranda lost 19 straight. However both teams saw a silver lining in their misfortune, as in the off-season the Lewiston MAINEiacs folded and a dispersal draft was held for that squad’s players. In addition to the high entry draft position held by low-ranking clubs, the Huskies and Drakkar also were given priority in raiding Lewiston’s gifted roster.
Rouyn-Noranda chose first, tabbing blueliner Dillon Fournier (older brother of current Eagle Ty Fournier) to accelerate their rebuilding, while Baie-Comeau chose Samuel Carrier, whom through a series of trades they parlayed into 50-goal scorer Maxime St-Cyr. With the fourth pick in the dispersal draft, Halifax grabbed Lewiston’s first-round pick, and chose star netminder Zach Fucale.
Halifax was trying to finish its own lengthy rebuilding process. The 2009-10 Mooseheads finished at 13-48-7, one of only four teams since the turn of the decade to finish with under 35 points. (Joined by the 10-11 Drakkar and Huskies, as well as Baie-Comeau last season). The Mooseheads reconstruction ended with a title, on the backs of Fucale and generational junior talents Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, both landed via trades.
To see a team in the sub 30point range, you need to visit the prior decade. Rimouski managed to bottom out twice in a four-year period- finishing 11-58-3 in 2002-03, and 1057-3 in 2005-06. In between, the Oceanic captured the 2005 Presidents Cup thanks to one of the biggest stars in league history — Sidney Crosby — who was the first pick in the 2003 draft.
Rimouski was very transparent with their motives in 2002, dealing all three 20year-olds well before Christmas and then moving quality blueliners Brent MacLellan and Aaron Johnson immediately after the trade window opened. The perceived tanking was so blatant the QMJHL introduced a draft lottery the following season — the first of which would be won by Cape Breton, choosing James Sheppard with a pick originally belonging to Halifax.
Following the 2005-06 disaster, the Oceanic began the next rebuild with four first-round picks. But without a player of Crosby’s calibre, the rebuild, expected to culminate with a Memorial Cup victory on home ice in 2009, saw Rimouski fail to make the President’s Cup final that season.
Shannon’s Wildcats will also attempt to rebuild through the draft, with two picks in each of the opening four rounds in 2017. But thanks to the draft lottery, expanded this year to further reduce the chances of the last-place team choosing first, Moncton landing SaintEustache midget phenom Alexis Lafrenière is far from a guarantee.
Moncton has dubbed this massive overhaul “The Process”. However, history tells us that fate, luck, and timing may be more important to building a winner than any trade or process.