Traded just before high school exams: Is it time to ban trades in junior hockey?
Lleyton Moore is a 16-year-old from Saskatchewan who plays in the Ontario Hockey League. He's moving from Niagara to Oshawa. But it's not by choice. He's going to Oshawa because he's been traded.
Moore will have to settle into a new school and meet new teammates over the next few days. He was traded last week just before the OHL's trade deadline, one of 61 players with new home addresses. The trade deadline can be exciting for fans and rewarding for owners but very disruptive for players.
Matt Cullen is a reporter for CBC Sports and also provides commentary for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads. Cullen spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about what it means to trade a young person who wants an NHL career but needs an education.
You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above.
Matt Cullen, CBC Sports
Matt, there were 43 trades leading up to the OHL trade deadline with, as I said, 61 players moved. That is a lot of movement. General Managers are trying to help their teams win. But how do the players feel about this?
Players can take both sides. They are pretty torn. When it comes to the OHL, young players sometimes move away at 15 or 16-years old. That's very young. In what other scenario could you think of young men at that age moving away from home? And, also changing teams at the snap of a finger? One side of the debate says the OHL treats its players like professional athletes not student athletes. In the Canadian Hockey League, which the OHL falls under, players are officially considered student athletes.
In Windsor I had a young family with a 4 or 5-year-old that I lived with for a year-and-a-half. The next day I get traded. How do you explain to a 4 or 5-year-old that I'm going away for a long time? They don't really understand.- Cole Carter, Mississauga Steelheads
He told me that those trades helped him to understand that hockey is really a business even at the junior level.
Is there anything you've heard about being traded that these teens and young men find appealing?
If you're playing in the OHL you are probably considering playing hockey for a living one day. It's an extremely high level of hockey. For many of these athletes hockey is all that they know. They have one goal. That is to get better, to be on the radar of an NHL team, get drafted and eventually wear an NHL sweater.
19-year-old Ryan McLeod, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick from Mississauga, is an extremely motivated player. More than anything he wants to make it to the next level and suit up next to Connor McDavid. At the deadline he was traded from his native Mississauga to Saginaw, Michigan. That's almost 500 km with a wait at the border. Ryan says he was lucky to play his first three-and-a-half years in his hometown. He lived at home. He was happy to go to a contending team in Saginaw. They have a chance to make a run for the OHL championship. He wants to show the Edmonton Oilers that he can play when it matters most.
(Learning) to just do the little things like cook and clean, stuff like that, it will make my away-from-the-rink life easier and I'll be able to focus on hockey more.- Ryan McLeod, Saginaw Spirit
He hopes it's the next step on his way to becoming a professional, hopefully, in the NHL.
Very few of the 61 players traded will end up in the NHL, so there's no guarantee they'll make even one dollar from hockey after their OHL career is over. How does being traded affect their education?
That seems to be the biggest question because it varies so much amongst players. Some players are in high school. Some are in schools and some are taking online classes. Some are at college and some are at universities. At 19, Ryan Macleod is not taking classes. For him it's not too much of a disruption. One of the players coming back to Mississauga from Saginaw is 17-year-old Aidan Prueter. He was taking online classes in Saginaw because he didn't want to take the risk of having his American school credits not transfer back to Canada. This works for him. He likes being in a classroom. Online it can be difficult to get extra help. Most of these teams do have an educational advisor to make sure everything is going smoothly. Teams help the players as much as they can.
Prueter is coming to Mississauga but what about players going the other way? How easy is it to take a student out of university and move to another city? That's the heart of the debate around whether trades should be allowed mid-season in junior hockey. As you mentioned, many of the players don't make it to the NHL. What's the backup plan? In most cases it's school and education.