The Seattle Thunderbirds got a little makeover on their blueline with the trade of two defenseman while getting one back in return. Both deals could be looked on as a bit "surprising" from the initial reaction, but once you look deeper into the transactions you can see how they make sense.
First, the T-birds had a move coming one way or the other. Seattle was carrying four 20 year old players and the cut down date to get down to the league limit of three was looming. For a while it seemed their decision might be made for them when Mitch Elliot got extended time at camp with the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate. In fact, not knowing if Elliot was going to be returned, Seattle claimed Erik Benoit off waivers from Saskatoon.
It seemed no sooner had Seattle brought Benoit into the fold, that Elliot was then returned. This put Seattle one player over the 20 year old limit. A month, even two weeks ago I don't think we envisioned that it would be defenseman Jesse Forsberg who would be the odd man out. But in deed, Forsberg was dealt to Moose Jaw Wednesday for a 2015 3rd round Bantam Draft pick.
In my opinion, two things made this trade plausible. First, of the four overage players on the roster, Forsberg probably had the most return value in a trade. Quality 20 year old defenseman are hard to come by. Forsberg will bring leadership, passion, grit and solid two way play to the Moose Jaw locker room. I doubt the three remaining 20s could have brought back a 3rd round draft pick in a trade. It's just my opinion that you can get good 20 year old forwards for a lesser price. The T-birds in fact, paid nothing to acquire Benoit, who is a solid two-way player who plays in all situations, not to mention he's won a league championship and been to two Memorial Cups, yet all it took to get him was a waiver claim.
Secondly, the play in the early season of 16 year old rookie defenseman Ethan Bear makes trading Forsberg more palatable. I'm not suggesting they are the same type of player and at just age 16, Bear will still go through growing pains, but he's earned his ice time and the teams is unbeaten (6-0) when he's in the lineup. The good news for Forsberg is he gets to play his final season in the WHL back in Saskatchewan, where he's from. Circle Tuesday, January 21st on your calendar though. That's when Forsberg and his Moose Jaw team invade the ShoWare Center.
Meanwhile, if we look back at the Colin Jacobs deal that went down last offseason, the T-birds have gotten a pretty good return on their investment. Jacobs turns into one year of Forsberg plus a 5th a 7th and now a 3rd round draft choice.
The second transaction the T-birds made Wednesday was to deal another defenseman, 18 year old Griffin Foulk, to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for 19 year old d-man Adam Henry. At first it may seem odd that a team that has begun the season 6-2 would suddenly trade away two of its top six defensemen. But Seattle had a glut of '95 born blue liners on the roster. Four 18 year old defensemen (Hauf, Smith and Theodore in addition to Foulk) meant younger players weren't getting needed ice time to develop.
Sending Foulk to Lethbridge breaks up that age group. This trade is also as much about next season and the season after as it is about this season. Seattle has some very good young defenseman in the pipeline who are going to earn a roster spot next season. Remember, they spent their 2013 first round bantam draft pick on highly touted d-man Dante Fabbro. If you witnessed any of training camp you also saw a few other young, talented defenseman who could make an argument they should be on this team now, if necessary.
Meanwhile by acquiring Henry, you gain some of the veteran experience you lost in dealing away Forsberg and Henry seems to be a similar type player to what you traded away in Foulk.
It's funny that just about five months ago we were excited for this season and one reason for that was the T-birds returning all of their top six defenseman from the 2012-13 campaign. Now 2/3rds of them are gone. But we also knew coming into camp this fall that the Thunderbirds had nine signed defensemen on the roster and something had to give.
I certainly will miss both these players. Forsberg was a solid team leader and gave the team a veteran defenseman last season when they had none. Meanwhile it was fun to watch Foulk's game make a big jump forward from the time he was acquired from Everett one year ago to now. You could see his confidence level rise with each game he played. They are two good hockey players but also two solid citizens and I wish them well with their new teams.