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Liard: Sure the Wolves traded their three top scorers, but it’s actually a good thing — no, really

The team can’t be handcuffed by the roster, only a rebuild makes sense, Sudbury.com’s Wolves reporter Nick Liard argues
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The Sudbury Wolves traded five players — their three top scorers, including this guy, Dmitri Sokolov, who scored 48 goals last season. Sudbury.com’s Wolves reporter, Nick Liard, argues this is actually a good thing. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Only time will tell if the Sudbury Wolves had a successful 2018 trade deadline, but early signs point to them being winners.

The Wolves need a full rebuild, a sell-the-farm-for-seeds-type of tear down and that’s exactly what they did.

“Deadlines are never easy, but I’ll tell you that we’re very happy with the end result,” Wolves GM Rob Papineau told me this week. “We like what we’ve been able to do for our hockey team now and as we move forward. It’s not easy because you’re dealing with people who have been part of your family, it’s kind of a whirlwind of emotions. 

A number of picks they brought back won’t be drafted until 2020 and beyond, with one pick in 2023 (that player, incidentally, is currently nine or 10 years old).

The Wolves moved five players out but brought back just two, giving their young players a better chance to carve out a role on the team.

“We’re really happy with what we’re building here,” Papineau said.

The biggest trade of the deadline for Sudbury came as the clock was ticking down. The Wolves sent superstar scorer Dmitry Sokolov and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2022 to the Barrie Colts for another Russian, Alexey Lipanov.

“We just are thankful for what [Dmitri] was able to provide us, but there’s no question when you’re dealing with over-agers or you’re dealing with import picks, it’s not quite the same as when you’re dealing with other players,” Papineau said. “There are certain rules and limitations to what you can and can’t do.”

Lipanov is not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination. He’s a year younger than Sokolov with a lot of potential, notching 29 points in 35 games for a good Colts team last season.

But he also isn’t a player who scored 48 goals last season.

Sources close to the team told me Sokolov didn’t want to be traded and had rejected a number of trades.

I thought it would have been best to trade him before the World Juniors, rather than wait and squeeze in a trade. Looking around, similar skilled players were fetching five, six, even seven picks in return.

But Sokolov is also an import player and OHL teams can only have two on their roster. That limited the trade opportunities for Sudbury as well.

Any destination likely to be open, there was a chance Sokolov would reject the deal. The deal for Barrie made sense, though, because the Colts have Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov, Sokolov’s teammate at the World Juniors.

At that point, Barrie has the upper hand.

It could have made sense keeping Sokolov until he heads to the AHL next season, as it opens up an import pick for Sudbury. As it stands now, the Wolves will have two import players already in Lipanov and Zack Malik.

Still, the Wolves did the right thing in moving the talented Russian.

The second biggest trade for Sudbury was moving their captain, longest-serving member of the Pack and second leading scorer Michael Pezzetta.

They were able to get a nice return for the veteran who, like Sokolov, may not be back next season if Montreal signs him to a contract.

The Pack was able to get a second-round pick in 2019, a second-round pick in 2023 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2019, as well as Sudbury native Ethan Lavallee, who plays for the Rayside-Balfour Canadiens, while also giving up an eighth-round pick in 2018.

Saying farewell to Sudbury is bittersweet, Pezzetta told me.

“Obviously, I’ve been in Sudbury for the last three-and-a-half years, made a lot of friendships and it was hard walking away from those friendships and my billet family in Sudbury,” Pezzetta said. “But to get the opportunity to go to a contender and make a deep playoff run is exciting, and for me to be able to be a piece of that is a big honour.”

Pezzetta played 214 games in Sudbury, but got into just five playoff games, so jumping from the last place team in the Eastern Conference to the second best team in the Western (the Sarnia Sting) is a huge opportunity for him.

Perhaps the most surprising move or moves for Sudbury — at least in my opinion — was a defenceman leaving and one coming.

The Wolves traded Reagan O’Grady, another longtime Pack-member, to Mississauga for a second-round pick in 2019, a third-round pick in 2018 and a conditional third-round pick in 2021.

Sudbury then sent two second-round picks in 2019, a third-round pick in 2018 and a third-round pick in 2021 to Ottawa for defenceman Peter Stratis, a nice addition to the Wolves’ blue line. He’s a second-year player with 13 points in 39 games this season.

Sudbury also sent goalie Mario Culina to Kitchener for an eighth-round pick, and Troy Lajeunesse to Erie for a fifth-round pick.

With that, Sudbury traded away their top three scorers and left behind a lot of questions heading into next season. But a team that was afraid to make a deal at the deadline a year ago, only to squeak into the playoffs, made the right move to start from scratch and give the players who will be the future of this team all the playing time in the world.

Nick Liard covers the Sudbury Wolves for Sudbury.com, provides game commentary for the Wolves on Eastlink, and serves as news director at 92.7 Rock and Kiss 105.3.