When the Kootenay Ice ownership changed hands back in May, it was expected that a lot of roster moves would be made by the team’s new general manager.
Few, however, would have guessed that by early November, Matt Cockell would have 14 trades under his belt and show no signs of stopping.
His 13th deal, which he finalized on Monday morning, was by far the most significant of the ‘new Ice age’.
In a blockbuster move, Cockell sent Ice captain Cale Fleury to the Regina Pats in exchange for 2001-born forward Cole Muir, 1999-born defenceman Jonathan Smart, a second round draft pick in 2018, a sixth round draft pick in 2018 and a conditional second round draft pick in 2019.
Later that day, the GM made another trade as he sent winger Barrett Sheen to Moose Jaw for a fifth round draft pick.
“We have a plan and it’s something that we’re following with intent,” Cockell told the Townsman of his frequent trading as a first-year executive. “I would say that the most important driver for any decision that we’re making is culture. The commitment we have to the group of players [here is] that we’re going to build a championship team and that started in training camp.
“We think that we have an opportunity to do some things this year and our expectation is that we’re going to be competing to be in the playoffs. That’s what our goal is, [so we’re] making the decisions with that in mind and also with what we’re going to do moving forward.”
According to Regina Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock, adding Fleury to the Pats has been in the works for a long time.
“I asked about Cale Fleury when Jeff Chynoweth was the general manager before the trade deadline last year,” Paddock told media in Regina. “I first asked [Cockell] about him when we met at the [WHL] awards [ceremony] back on May 5, so it’s been in the works since [then].”
While Cockell wasn’t looking to trade his team’s captain, the opportunity that Paddock presented became too great to resist.
“Cale Fleury was a player that we weren’t looking to proactively move,” the Ice GM said. “As things moved along and teams [had] some interest, we got to a point where the opportunity for our team, now and moving forward… and also considering the opportunity for Cale being a part of a Memorial Cup host, it just felt like the right thing to do at this time for our franchise and the right thing in terms of a place for Cale.
“It was a very difficult decision for our franchise and yet we feel like we got a package back that allows us to continue down the path that we are this year.”
The return was a 16-year-old high-potential forward prospect, a solid 18-year-old defenceman and a slew of valuable draft picks.
“Jonathan Smart is a very offensively gifted, skilled defenseman and we felt that [would be a good] piece on our power play,” Cockell said. “He was already playing in the top four in Regina, [and he’s] a year younger [than Cale].
“He will be a good player for us [and] help us to continue to focus on winning today.”
As for Cole Muir, the hope is for him to mature along with fellow 2001-born teammates Peyton Krebs and Zac Patrick to help form the team’s eventual nucleus.
“Muir is a player that our group of scouts and I have had a lot of interest in and we’re really excited to add a player like that,” Cockell said. “Of course, he’s 16 so this will be a year of development, but when you look at the young group of forwards that we’re putting together, I think the future is very exciting for the franchise.”
According to Cockell, both players will join the team as soon as possible and should help the team immediately.
“Regina put a package together that we felt allowed us to [be good both today and in the future],” he said. “[We’ll be able] to continue to focus on what we’re doing this year, be competitive, be in games, develop good habits [and] good culture, [as well as] focus on winning with our group that we have here.
“We have a core group of young players that we’re very, very excited about and we remain committed to building around that group and yet, we’ve been fortunate in terms of the leadership of [Colton] Kroeker, [Alec] Baer, [Colton] Veloso, [Dallas] Hines, [Ryan] Pouliot and [Brett] Davis.”
Although the Ice have lost their past three games, the team has been hampered with injuries to key players including Kroeker, the Ice’s top point-producer.
Speaking on his other Monday decisions, moving Sheen and reassigning 19-year-old goalie Kurtis Chapman to the AJHL, Cockell once again said they were hard moves to make.
“No decisions are easy,” he explained. “Kurtis is such a great person and he’s proven to be a guy who can play in the league, there is no question, [but] he’s a 19-year-old and [looking] at the makeup of our team moving forward, we think that there is some [potential] growth with [Bailey] Brkin and [Duncan] McGovern, a younger goalie that we think highly of.
“In order for them to develop and for us to know what we have, they have to play… three goalies isn’t something good [in the] long-term. It’s not good for anybody.
“With Barrett, numbers [we’re a significant factor]. We’re getting a couple of guys back in the deal with Regina and so having another player in return, [it was necessary to make another change]… we will miss Barrett’s presence on the ice. [He] worked hard.”
As for the team naming a new captain, Cockell said that finding the next player to wear the ‘C’ will be a group decision.
“[We had] a really good conversation with Cale this morning [and] he had some really kind feedback in terms of the direction we’re going. We feel that we’re on the right path and [coach] James [Patrick] will ultimately decide on who will be [our captain].
“It will be a great opportunity for our group to continue to evolve [and] to take ownership of what we’re doing. Cale was a guy that they could lean on and now with the dynamics changing a little bit within our group, [we] look forward to that spurring on some growth in other individuals.”
The Ice’s next game will be against the Medicine Hat Tigers, on the road, on Tuesday night. Fleury’s first return visit to Cranbrook will be on March 9 and Sheen will have a chance to come back with the Warriors on February 10.