SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Iowa Heartlanders and Savannah Ghost Pirates brought in the new year playing “Let’s Make a Deal,” swapping defensemen. So, what makes these two last-place (in their respective divisions) teams make a trade like this?
As the season has gone on, the Vegas Golden Knights and Henderson Silver Knights organizations have dealt with a significant number of injuries. Henderson has had to call up six of their players that were down with the team this year. Three of those AHL call-ups were from the blue line, with Darian Skeoch remaining as the lone Henderson defenseman on the roster with the Ghost Pirates. Separately, Will Riedell was loaned to the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL as well.
At face value, this trade seems to be a defenseman swap to get the most out of both teams’ core defenses. For Iowa, Clayton Phillips comes into town and can help bolster their defense, as his game focuses primarily on defensive-mindedness. Phillips is not one to rack up penalty minutes with unnecessary penalties, nor is he the player who lights up the point sheets. In his 27 games with Savannah this year, he has accounted for two assists. But, what he does offer is the tenacity to do the little things that help a team’s defense. He goes in for hits, provides quality backchecks, pesters the opposition, and blocks shots.
For a team, like Iowa, who has lost five out of their last ten games by only one goal, having that extra barrier on defense could elevate their team to that next level. If they even won half of those five aforementioned games with that extra defensive depth that would have taken them from a 2-5-3 record (7 points) to a 4-2-4 (12 points), and they could potentially begin to turn around what has been an abysmal season for the Heartlanders.
For Savannah, they add T.J. Fergus to their depleted blue line ranks. The rookie defenseman has seven points (2G, 5A) in 19 games played this season, and will add some scoring punch to a blueline that is weathering the loss of Connor Corcoran, who posted 11 points (3G, 8A) in 26 games played. Even with Corcoran gone, the Ghost Pirates still have firepower on the back end in the form of Tristan Thompson, who has 24 points in 31 games played this season and quarterbacks Savannah’s top power-play unit. With Fergus coming to the roster, he may challenge for that second power-play unit defenseman position.
Recently, Savannah has added Elijah Vilio to the roster as well from a trade with the Norfolk Admirals, and he has already notched himself a power play goal within his first four games played.
Both Vilio and Fergus seem to be Savannah’s response to bolstering their defense pairings with offensive players, while players like Skeoch and Josh Victor can continue to manage the hard-hitting defensive-minded defenseman positions.
Both teams get to see their new defenseman put to the test as they host each of their division’s current top seeds in the upcoming days. Iowa takes on the Indy Fuel on home ice tonight, while Savannah plays host to the Atlanta Gladiators at home tomorrow night.
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