Darrell Davis: Regina Pats keep their captain, who could have drawn a big return

Keith Hershmiller Photography. Regina Pats captain Tanner Howe celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2023-24 WHL season.

Darrell Davis, Regina Leader-Post

Nobody outside the Regina Pats organization will ever know how many — if any — rival WHL teams were interested in acquiring their talented captain, left-winger Tanner Howe.

That’s fair. It’s tough enough for teenaged players to watch teammates coming and going around the junior league’s Jan. 10 trading deadline, let alone worrying if another team has you in their crosshairs. Pats general manager Alan Millar realizes that, which is likely why he freely assessed the bevy of trades he did make but wouldn’t reveal details about any other deals that may have been discussed.

The trade deadline’s passed,” Millar told a media gathering minutes after the shutoff time. “I’m not going to talk about players that are on our roster and if there were any trade discussions around those players.

“There’s no point.”

In his first season since replacing longtime Pats boss John Paddock, Millar has made 10 trades that have changed the team’s on-ice identity and replenished its draft choices.

In his fourth season with the Pats, Prince Albert-born Howe is his team’s best player. Touted as a potential first-rounder in the upcoming NHL draft, Howe is one of 14 WHLers chosen for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Jan. 24 in Moncton. With 21 goals and 26 assists, his 47 points lead the Pats and place him 22nd in WHL scoring.

Although WHL teams sometimes trade their best players to contenders at the deadline, while hoping the deals strengthen their own future chances, it makes sense this year for the Pats to keep Howe. It looked obvious from the outside the team was being rebuilt around him, but no one assured Howe he was staying.

“That’s not how it works,” said Howe. “You try not to focus on that. If that gets in your head, that can affect how you play and all those sorts of things. So that’s something I never think about and I always want to be a Regina Pat.”

Howe would undoubtedly be coveted by other teams looking to improve their playoff chances. The Saskatoon Blades, Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos each acquired front-line players to help down the stretch. Maybe they were interested in Howe. Who knows? And it’s a scenario he may have to go through again next year, even though he reiterated he really doesn’t want to leave.

“Obviously the deadline comes around again next year, so we’ll see about that,” said Howe. “But I want to be a Regina Pat.

“I love it here and I think we’re gonna be a really strong team next year.”

The Pats have held onto top-notch talent before, resisting any offers to restock draft choices and add instant talent by dealing former stars Connor Bedard and Jordan Eberle. It’s often debated what the team could have accumulated for those current NHL stars, but it’s all moot now.

The deals are done and the Pats now face that difficult challenge of qualifying for the WHL playoffs by winning a few games against their much-improved, three closest geographical rivals.

Although the Pats sit 10th heading into this weekend’s action and are five points out of the final qualifying berth occupied by the Prince Albert Raiders, Millar believes the current roster can challenge for one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spots. Regina plays host to the Vancouver Giants on Friday and Prince Albert on Saturday, with the latter contest featuring numerous fan giveaways and a donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Faceoff is 7 p.m. each night at the Brandt Centre.

Millar, who used to be the Warriors’ general manager before spending time with Hockey Canada, was asked about that upgrading done by Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Swift Current.

“It’s hard enough to manage one team,” Millar said with a laugh. “I don’t need to manage two or three.

“You know what? I’ve been in their shoes and when you have a chance to win, what moves do you make? How deep do you go into your draft capital and your prospect pool to win? For me, here, I want to get this club to a point where a deadline looks like us making moves to try and win a championship.”

Keeping Howe might be the best way to pursue that championship. Who knows? Sometimes the best move is not making a move.