Officially, the Ontario Hockey League is closed for business until December 28. That is when the regular season schedule resumes and the Christmas freeze on trades is lifted.
Meantime, let us go top to bottom in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference of the 20-team OHL.
1. Ottawa 67s. Not only is Ottawa in first place overall in the OHL with 54 points from 35 games but the 67s made a recent trade to acquire Team Canada goalie Michael DiPietro from the Windsor Spitfires. DiPietro won the 2017 Memorial Cup while with Windsor and is widely regarded as the best goalie in the OHL. This is the second season in Ottawa for general manager James Boyd and coach Andre Tourigny, who 67s president Jeff Hunt hired simultaneously to replace Jeff Brown, who had previously held the dual role. Sure seems as though Hunt knew what he was doing when he went out and got Boyd and Tourigny.
2. Niagara IceDogs. The Burke brothers have loaded up to try to bring a title to the Niagara region. Joey Burke is the general manager of the IceDogs, Billy Burke is the head coach and their parents own the team. But while family ties may have got them hired, Joey and Billy have the IceDogs in second place with 45 points in 32 games as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
3. Sudbury Wolves. After finishing last overall in the OHL in 2017-2018, the Wolves have been a very nice surprise in 2018-2019. Cory Stillman is showing his coaching ability as a second year bench boss in Sudbury and it does not hurt to have world-class Finnish goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen tending twine as quite possibly the second-best goalie in the OHL after DiPietro in Ottawa. The Wolves are just a point back of Niagara with 44 points in 32 games.
4. Oshawa Generals. With 42 points in 34 games, the Generals are making a bid to finish in the top four in the Eastern market and get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. General manager Roger Hunt has been both a buyer and a seller through the first half of the season.
5. Peterborough Petes. The Petes may be poised to overtake Oshawa in the second half, having acquired point-producing defenseman Ryan Merkley in a blockbuster trade with the Guelph Storm. Peterborough has 38 points in 33 games.
6. Mississauga Steelheads. No one seems to know for sure if the Steelheads will buy, sell, or stand pat at the trade deadline. But for now, Mississauga is in sixth place with 35 points in 33 games and looking over its shoulder at Hamilton, Barrie and North Bay.
7. Hamilton Bulldogs. With 32 points in 34 games, the reigning OHL champions recently added disgruntled second year forward Tag Bertuzzi — who was the second overall choice at the 2017 priority selections draft — in a trade with Guelph, sending a second round pick and two third rounders to the Storm. Still, speculation is that Hamilton general manager Steve Staios will move a veteran forward or two try to reclaim those draft picks prior to the January 10 trade deadline. By the way, the deadline for trading overage players is January 9.
8. Barrie Colts. With 31 points in 33 games, the Colts have regressed after turning it around in 2017-2018, a year after finishing last overall in 2016-2017.
9. North Bay Battalion. A hot and cold team that has gone on multiple winning and losing streaks, the Battalion has a feature attraction in OHL scoring leader Justin Brazeau, who has 34 goals in 34 games. North Bay is currently on the outside looking in at a playoff spot on the Eastern side with 30 points.
10. Kingston Frontenacs. With 21 points in 34 games, Kingston is poised to have the second overall pick at the 2019 OHL priority selections draft.
1. London Knights. Here we go again in London, where the Knights represent what may be the most functional, fruitful franchise in the OHL. To that extent, president/coach Dale Hunter and his general manager/brother Mark Hunter will be thinking inside and outside the box for ways to make their team the clear-cut favourites to eventually win the Western Conference championship. London has 49 points in 31 games heading into the second half of the season. Expect an impact player or two to join the Knight shift once play resumes after the holiday break.
2. Soo Greyhounds. Despite being in serious contention and in second place with 47 points from 34 games, the Greyhounds rather astute general manager Kyle Raftis will nonetheless be listening to trade inquiries relative to veteran players that include star goalie Matthew Villalta and star forward Morgan Frost as well as the team’s three overage skaters. The Greyhounds are short on high draft picks for the next few years but Raftis just may decide to take a run at London and either tweak the Soo roster or just stay the course. Thus far, the reigning Western Conference champs have overachieved under rookie head coach John Dean.
3. Owen Sound Attack. With two good goalies and a balanced scoring attack, the Attack has been solid with 41 points through 33 games. General manager Dale DeGray and head coach Todd Gill form a good tandem in small market Owen Sound.
4. Guelph Storm. No nonsense coach-general manager George Burnett has caused quite the recent Storm by dealing off two former first round picks in the aforementioned Ryan Merkley and Tag Bertuzzi. With 41 points in 33 games to date, Guelph might just be willing to settle for a middle of the pack finish in the standings.
5. Saginaw Spirit. This is a team of special intrigue in Saginaw, where Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill works relentlessly and around the clock as one of the more-prepared hockey bosses in the OHL. The trade wheel has been spinning since before the season even started as Drinkill has made a half dozen transactions as both buyer and seller. Looking ahead, the feeling is that Trader Dave is not done and that a big deal could be forthcoming prior to the deadline. To be sure, Saginaw just could be poised to make a move up in the standings. The Spirit has 40 points in 33 games and has a record of 6-2-2 since Chris Lazary replaced Troy Smith as head coach.
6. Sarnia Sting. Picked by many observers — including this one — to finish last in the Western Conference, Sarnia instead is in possession of a playoff spot and above the .500 mark with 36 points in 35 games.
7. Windsor Spitfires. Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel continued a rebuild stage when he secured considerable future worth with the trade of aforementioned fan favourite and local hero Michael DiPietro to Ottawa. Windsor has 33 points in 34 games and has a slight lead on both Kitchener and Erie for one of the lower playoff berths.
8. Kitchener Rangers. The Rangers have lost four straight games and are in danger of missing the Western Conference playoffs. One question is, what move or moves will general manager Mike McKenzie make? McKenzie may be under the gun to try to solidify a playoff spot for the Blueshirts, who have 29 points in 33 games and have been a big disappointment. And head coach Jay McKee has to be feeling the heat.
9. Erie Otters. After four straight 50-win campaigns and one OHL championship (but no Memorial Cup rings) the Otters are in the second season of a rebuild and are in good, patient coaching hands with Chris Hartsburg at the helm. Erie is in definite playoff range with 27 points in 33 games.
10. Flint Firebirds. One major injury after another has hit the Firebirds hard. Flint will unfortunately miss the playoffs for the second straight season and third time in four terms, thus general manager Barclay Branch is in major decision mode. Does Branch hold on to the many marketable players that the Firebirds have or does he hold a fire sale and get maximum returns on major assets? Flint appeared ticketed for a playoff spot this season after missing out in 2017-2018 but little has gone right in a 2018-2019 campaign that resulted in a coaching change from Ryan Oulahen to Eric Wellwood. The Firebirds are last overall with 10 points in 35 games.
PHOTO: Ottawa 67s world-class goalie Michael DiPietro.