The view from the bot­tom

Monc­ton has laid the foun­da­tion, but could need luck to com­plete re­build

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - Patrick McNeil Patrick McNeil is the play-by-play an­nouncer with the Cape Bre­ton Scream­ing Ea­gles. He be­lieves in the orig­i­nal process — the one be­long­ing to his Philadel­phia 76ers. Email him at cb­sepbp@gmail.com, or Twit­ter: cb­se_pbp.

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.

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