There usually isn't a lot of mystery surrounding the Portland Winter Hawks. This is a franchise that has quietly gone about its business for a quarter of a century Ñ winning a lot of games and making a nice chunk of money.
The local junior hockey team has a record of making some very astute trades, but this season a couple of deals have decimated a defensive corps that the team's management once called the best in franchise history. Three veterans have been dealt away, replaced by younger players. A team that 14 games into the season was thought to be one of the best in the Western Hockey League is not even close to that these days.
The trading deadline passed this week with the team not filling an open spot for an overage player Ñ a big void for a team that once thought it would get deep into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, team President Ken Hodge continues to deny rumors that the Hawks are about to be sold, have already been sold or will be sold in the off-season.
'We don't have an offer in writing,' he says.
But Hodge acknowledges that a group from Vancouver, B.C., headed by Canucks executive Brian Burke, has been given permission to speak to Oregon Arena Corp. about the condition of Memorial Coliseum and even about a lease for available playing dates for next season. Given that, isn't it reasonable to assume that something may happen?
'It's a reasonable question,' Hodge says. 'But nothing has been taken to our shareholders.'
Hodge is one of the shareholders and doesn't seem at all anxious to sell. But some of the other Hawk owners may not be able to resist an offer that would reasonably be expected to exceed $4 million.
Last year, the Hawks erased memories of a mediocre regular season with a scintillating playoff run that got them to the WHL finals. Hodge believes it's possible to repeat that success, but I think that's asking a lot. As for the most recent trade, which sent 19-year-old defenseman Kris Callaway to Lethbridge for 17-year-old Matt Fetzner, Hodge says:
'I don't think we moved forward by leaps and bounds, but I don't think we moved backward.'
Make of that what you will. This is a team that got a lot of its offense from the three departed defensemen Ñ Kevin Young, Jesse Ferguson and Callaway. And I'm not sure there's enough left, without the usual hockey variable Ñ the hot goalie Ñ to get far in the postseason.