COLUMN: Perry Bergson — June 4, 2012

Perry
Perry Bergson
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I tend to be a glass half full guy.

Having established that, let’s talk about this city’s Western Hockey League franchise.

The Prince Albert Raiders are in a much better financial spot than they were even very recently after local businessman Gord Broda floated the team a $1.5-million line of credit to draw on.

In a perfect world, they never touch a penny of his money, the team prospers and the early whispers for a new arena to be built manifest themselves into a gorgeous facility.

In a reasonable world, they draw on the line a bit but promptly pay the money back.

We won’t even visit the glass half empty equation.

But the fact that the financial discussion is even taking place does prompt an interesting philosophical question for the club and for this city. It seems deceptively simple but it has a sneaky catch to it.

Do the Prince Albert Raiders want to win a league championship and even another Memorial Cup or is staying in this city most important?

Let me start by saying that both can happen with a perfect balance of smart moves by the club and enduring support of the club by fans in the region during hard times.

They may even have a head start.

Recent WHL history has shown that either you build a dynasty or you have to get bad to get good.

In the last five years, three league winners missed the playoffs in at least one of the previous two years.

I would argue that as the bantam draft has become more and more important, the ability to build high-end dynasties has fallen off.

Who can guess the last repeat champion in the league?

It was the Kamloops Blazers in 1993-94 and in ’94-95.

We have seen some three and five-year runs by teams in the league in the last decade — Kelowna, Kootenay, Red Deer and Vancouver come to mind — but good professional scouting has a way of creating parity.

By capitalizing on your top picks in bad years, you have a great opportunity to build for your future.

That brings me to part two of this equation.

If you’re battling for eighth place overall, maybe you keep your high-scoring 19-year-old forward hoping he can assure you a couple of playoff games. If things go right, maybe you get an upset and a couple more full houses at the arena.

I’m just not sure that’s the smart move.

I’ve heard the argument that young kids need to learn how to win, which means you should keep that elite player.

But by dealing that player in January, you lose him for three months, gaining the chance to draft some outstanding prospects.

Let’s look back at a recent deal that couldn’t have been easy but was a steal. Since I lived in Brandon for the last 22 years, naturally it involves the Wheat Kings.

On Jan. 10, 2011, the Wheaties traded their star forward Brayden Schenn and a 2012 third round pick to the Blades for 15-year-old prospects Ayrton Nikkel and Tim McGauley, plus a first and second rounder in 2011, a first rounder in 2012 and a first rounder in the 2012 import draft.

Granted Schenn had played just two games for the Wheat Kings that season after being hurt in an NHL training camp and then starring for Team Canada at the World Juniors, but he had been the face of the franchise in Brandon for three years.

Coming off his record-tying 18-point performance in the tournament, he was a hot commodity even with the news that he had separated a shoulder in the quarter-final game.

Schenn was dealt to his hometown Blades and lit it up in the regular season, notching 21 goals and 32 assists in just 27 games.

The Raiders extended the Blades to six games in a hard-fought series, with Saskatoon seemingly on their way to a long playoff run. Then they were abruptly swept by the Kootenay Ice, who had picked up Swift Current Broncos star Cody Eakin for five players and three picks.

To finish the story, the Wheat Kings played the 16-year-old Nikkel in 59 games last season and he looks like he could develop into a top defenceman. The others remain prospects.

It’s not easy making that trade, especially when it’s your superstar. I can’t imagine that it helped attendance and disgruntled fans aren’t made happier with those kinds of moves.

You’re building for the future but at the cost of games won now and, if your fan base is fickle, it’s costing you money at the box office as well.

In some cases, the needs of the gate ultimately outweigh the needs of the future.

So let’s return to the original question. What is the team’s goal?

I asked Raider GM Bruno Campese that very question one day and he suggested that he wasn’t right for the job if he wasn’t building to win a title.

It’s a noble sentiment and absolutely what you want to hear from your hockey staff.

But if fan support isn’t where you need it to be and you have a giant offer at the trade deadline for your star player, the decision isn’t clear cut.

Let’s hope that the talented young prospects who the hockey staff have assembled take the decision out of Bruno’s hands next Christmas.

Because I’m glad that I wouldn’t have to make it.

Organizations: Western Hockey League, Wheaties, NHL Team Canada World Juniors Raiders

Geographic location: Brandon, Kelowna, Red Deer Vancouver Saskatoon

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  • Nick Davies
    June 05, 2012 - 10:25

    Bruno is the bright star we need to bring the franchise back to the glory of the 80s. Within two years this will be the powerhouse of the east! But we need him to guide the team behind the bench to make that happen.