Saginaw Spirit GM Savvy with Player Acquisitions

    icon Dec 28, 2023
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I liken the general managers of professional sports teams as ultimate chess players.


They are basically in control of the team and every individual player's status on the team via player contracts. General managers can sign players, waive players, draft players, or make different transactions that involve trading. Their use of trading varies; they can trade player for player, player for draft picks, or draft pick for draft pick. 


The GM position is a very complex and sophisticated position. It is not an easy job nor is making basic transactions simple. GM’s really have to know the direction of their team and make some big-time decisions in order to succeed - whether it’s rebuilding teams or contending teams. 

The Saginaw Spirit is in very capable hands with its general manager, Dave Drinkill, who has been at the helm since 2015. The Elmvale, Ontario, native has helped guide the Spirit to a pair of West Division titles and four post season appearances.

Over the past year-and-a-half Drinkill has been quietly building a solid roster to position the Spirit to put its best skate forward at the 2024 Memorial Cup Presented by Dow Tournament that Saginaw is hosting. Over that span the Saginaw GM has made a total of 14 player transactions:

11/18/23: The Spirit acquired the playing rights to former 40-goal-scorer Luca Del Bel Belluz from the Sarnia Sting in exchange for a conditional 15th round pick in the 2027 OHL Priority Selection.

 11/16/23:  The Spirit acquired forward Alex Christopoulos, defenseman Rodwin Dionicio, and a 6th round pick in the 2024 OHL Priority Selection (KGN) in a trade with the Windsor Spitfires. In exchange, the Spirit sent to Windsor, defenseman Roberto Mancini, forward Valentin Zhugin, 2024 2nd round pick (PBO), 2025 2nd round pick (SOO), and the 2026 4th round pick (OTT).

11/16/23: The Spirit acquired a 3rd round pick in 2025 (BAR), 3rd round pick in 2026 (MISS), and 4th round pick in 2024 (KGN) from the Kingston Frontenacs in exchange for forward Luke McNamara and the team’s 14th round pick in 2024.

10/25/23: The Spirit acquired Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Ethan Hay from the Flint Firebirds along with Sarnia’s 6th round pick in the 2024 OHL Priority Selection. In exchange, the Spirit sent the following draft picks to Flint:

  • 2nd round, 2024 (SAG)
  • 2nd round, 2027 (KIT)
  • 3rd round, 2024 (NB)
  • 3rd round, 2026 (BAR)
  • 5th round, 2027 (SAG)
  • 7th round, 2025 (SAR)

10/10/23: The Spirit completed a trade with the Sarnia Sting. In exchange for their 5th round pick in 2024, the Spirit received goaltender Nolan Lalonde and Sarnia’s 2025 7th round pick.

 9/23/23: The Spirit acquired 6’6” defenseman Will Bishop from the Sudbury Wolves in exchange for a 6th round pick in the 2026 OHL Priority Selection and a 12th round pick in 2027.

 9/22/23: The Spirit added defenseman Braden Haché and a 2027 conditional 15th round pick from the Barrie Colts in exchange for defenseman Olivier Savard and a conditional 2024 3rd round pick (KGN).

 6/7/23: The Spirit traded draft picks with the Kitchener Rangers. Saginaw received Kitchener’s 2nd round pick in the 2027 OHL Priority Selection, while the Rangers received Ottawa’s 2025 4th round pick and Saginaw’s 2026 5th round pick.

6/6/23: The Spirit made a trade with the Barrie Colts, acquiring Barrie’s 2025 2nd round draft pick and their 2026 3rd round draft pick in exchange for forward Bode Stewart.

 4/17/23: The Spirit traded draft picks with the Kitchener Rangers. Saginaw received Sudbury’s 4th round selection in 2025, Mississauga’s 4th round selection in 2026, and London’s 5th round selection in 2023, in exchange for North Bay’s 2nd round selection in 2023.

1/10/23: The Spirit acquired defenseman James Guo and a 2023 6th round pick from the Peterborough Petes in exchange for defenseman Cam Gauvreau, Windsor’s 3r round pick in 2025, and Saginaw’s 4th round pick in 2023.

 1/10/23: The Spirit traded defenseman Pavel Mintyukov to the Ottawa 67’s in exchange for nine draft picks in the coming years. Saginaw acquired the following picks in the trade: Ottawa’s 2nd round pick in 2025, Soo’s 2nd round pick in 2025, Owen Sound’s 2nd round pick in 2026, Soo’s 3rd round pick in 2024, Kingston’s 3rd round pick in 2024, Ottawa’s 3rd round pick in 2025, Windsor’s 3rd round pick in 2025, Ottawa’s 4th round pick in 2025, and Ottawa’s 4th round pick in 2026.

12/1/22: The Spirit acquired center Hunter Haight from the Barrie Colts in exchange for a 2024 2nd round pick (NB), 2025 2nd round pick (SAG), 2025 3rd round pick (SAG), 2026 2nd round pick (SAG), and 2026 3rd round pick (KNG).

 11/16/22: The Spirit made a deal with the North Bay Battalion to acquire forward Nicholas Sima, defenseman Cam Gauvreau, a 2nd round pick in 2023 (NB), 2nd round pick in 2024 (NB), 3rd round pick in 2024 (NB), 3rd round pick in 2023 (ER) and a 3rd round pick in 2026 (KNG) in exchange for Josh Bloom, Brayden Hislop and London’s 6th round pick in 2025.

The Anatomy of a Trade

When it comes down to making a trade, Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill admits that it’s a team effort.

“I’m the GM but I bounce ideas off all of the others,” said Drinkill, “Chris (Lazary) and I need to be on the same page. We’re constantly communicating and trying to improve our team. I will talk with (assistant GM) Brian Prout and my scouting staff and I rely on their feedback. I think it’s good to ask questions. Maybe there’s things I haven’t thought of and they offer input. I bring every deal to Dick (Garber), Goose (Goslin), and Brandon (Bordeaux). They have the final word.”

Drinkill explained that completing a trade will come about via telephone, texting, email, and in-person talks. “It’s a mixture of everything. There’s a lot of phone conversations. I’m big on phone calls. I also run into other GMs at tournament and discussions are made.”

He further noted that there really isn’t a rhyme or reason as far as how long it takes for a trade to be made. “It’s very strange. Sometimes you talk (to other GMs) for months before a trade is done. Other times, it’s done in one phone call. I once did a deal during a 10-minute telephone call. But those are rare.”

“A good example would be acquiring (Ethan) Hay from Flint,” said Drinkill. “I talked with Flint for about a year. They weren’t ready to move him for one reason or another. And then things can suddenly materialize out of nowhere.”

“In a perfect world it’s a win/win/win,” viewed Drinkill. You obviously have to be happy with the move you are making in acquiring a player. Then, you want it to work out well for the player that is leaving the organization as well. And, of course, you want all the best for the player himself.

Working with fellow general managers on a trade, Drinkill said, “really comes down to trust.”

“I think like everything in life, relationships are important,” he said. “I’m big on friendships. Those (GMs) are people you are going to have to deal with for a long time so you’re not looking to and getting one over on them. It just doesn’t work that way.

Drinkill said that most fans don’t realize how tough it is when a player ultimately leaves the Spirit organization via trade; saying it’s tough for the player, their family, teammates, coaches, and even the player’s billet family. “You have to remember that these are young men, 16-20 years of age. I’m the type of person that is close with my players. It’s not easy. You shake their hand and wish them well, but it’s extremely tough and sometimes tears are shed.”

The official trade deadline for the Ontario Hockey League is January 10, 2024, prompting Drinkill to say, “We’ll do what needs to be done if we think we can improve our team.” 

Brass Fully Backs Drinkill’s Moves

When it comes down to making player transactions, the management of the Saginaw Spirit are behind General Manager Dave Drinkill 100 percent.

Dave Drinkill handles all hockey operations,” explained Spirit president/managing partner Craig Goslin. “He will review and obtain approval from ownership, but that is what we hire him for . . . to run our hockey operations. He is our hockey operational lead and has very professionally built the current Memorial Cup roster of this team through the draft and the trade he has made.”

“He (Drinkill) has an excellent relationship with Dick Garber, (partner) Brandon Bordeaux and myself,” continued Goslin. “Dave will review the ‘Why,’ ‘What,’ ‘When,’ of any deal he is considering with ownership. At the end of the day, he has the ultimate call on building the roster. Mr. Garber, as majority owner of the Spirit, will always ensure that the team additions are responsible, but always respects Dave Drinkill’s direction as do I.”

Goslin added that Drinkill is known throughout the entire Ontario Hockey League for his strong character, work ethic, eye for talent, and the manner that he treats the players, coaches, staff, and his peers.

“We are in very good hands with Dave Drinkill as our GM. You would be hard pressed to find anyone better. I’m glad he is on our side!”


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