The Saginaw Spirit have only won a single playoff game since making it to the second round in 2011 and 2012.
Since, they have had four straight first round exits, and last year they failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
It seemed like it was going to be another long season in Saginaw after the Spirit failed to register a win until their eighth game of the season, and winning just twice in their first 13 contests.
But the winds shifted in a big way at the start of November, and the team has lost just twice in regulation since.
Now as I write this, the Spirit boast a 14-10-3-0 record and sit sixth in the Western Conference. They are just a single point back of fourth-place Windsor.
In early October, I had the Spirit pegged as potential sellers, with guys like Keaton Middleton, Marcus Crawford and Evan Cormier ideal candidates to be moved for big returns at the deadline.
But their tremendous month of November has me signing a different tune in December. Especially after they showed their resiliency with that unbelievable come from behind win over Sarnia.
I have a couple theories of how Saginaw was able to turn things around, and why I believe this could be a year for them to make a splash.
First, lets look at why the Spirit have been a much tougher team to play against.
It seems like a tale of two seasons so far, so what’s changed since the calendar flipped to November 1st ?
- The Spirit have been able to score: In fourteen games since, Cole Coskey (8-11–19), Blade Jenkins (10-9–19), and Marcus Crawford (5-8–13) have all stepped up offensively. Especially Jenkins, who’s proven why Spirit took a chance on drafting him fourth overall in the 2016 draft.
- Mason Kohn: In what seemed like a very insignificant trade at the time, Kohn’s impact on a very young Spirit team shouldn’t be overlooked. Since coming to Saginaw, he had six goals and 17 points in 13 games, well aboce the offensive pace he’s been use to during his lengthy OHL career. He had played 250 games prior to the trade, that wealth of experience is hard to come by.
- Evan Cormier: As one of the busiest goalies in the OHL Cormier has once again been a workhorse in the Saginaw net. He’s also allowed two goals or fewer in six of his last ten starts, all six of those were wins.
- Coaching: The slow start to the season wasn’t exactly surprising, considering the team had no head coach for much of the off-season. That can been especially challenging for a team that already has issues with players committing. Troy Smith was hired in early August just weeks before the start of camp. It looks like he has the team moving in the right direction now. (NOTE: the recent addition of Jake Goldoswki suggests that Saginaw is becoming a much more appealing market to play for)
Now, why should Saginaw buy instead of sell?
They’re one of the youngest teams in the league, so it would make complete sense to sell some of thse older players (Middleton, Crawford, Cormier, etc) and bring back some serious return.
But going back to what I said off the top, Saginaw has only won a single playoff game in the last five seasons, and have only made it past the first round in three of their 15 seasons.
This is the year to change that, well at least the first part.
Saginaw possesses something only a handful of OHL teams have this season, elite goaltending. Although Cormier could likely land them a substantial amount on the trade market, he’s likely much more valuable if he stays in Saginaw.
I’m not saying they sell the farm by trading top prospects and emptying their draft cupboard, but why not use a couple of those draft picks they’ve accumulated over the last few years by landing some talent that could help you this year, and next.
Hang onto the main guys like Blade Jenkins, Aidan Prueter, Nicholas Porco and Jake Goldowski.
Ideally, the Spirit would want to target a player who will return to the club for 2018-19, maybe along the lines of a Ivan Lodnia or Kyle Maksimovich. Now these players don’t exactly grow on trees, but I think it’s important for the team to show their fan base that they believe in the team they have.
What will Saginaw decide to do this year? Who knows, one can only speculate.