28-In-28: The Wheat Kingsby SICHL Insider | August 6, 2015, 11:27 PM ET
Off to Manitoba to look at the Brandon Wheat Kings! In my eyes this is a bubble playoff team that could swing in two different directions. Rebuild or patch job. Personally my first thought would be rebuild but let's examine and see if I change my mind.
Doug has a couple of million in the bank, $2.3M to be exact. Not a lot of dough and missing the playoffs last year didn't help pad the bank account. However, there is enough to fill some gaps via Free Agency.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Eight players will be testing the UFA market in Brandon. Doug will not be able to exercise the FP option as Jason Pominville is locked up another 2 years. Losing Drew Stafford will be a bit of a hole in the offence but one easily filled in Free Agency.
Restricted Free Agents:
The strength on this team is centered around a center named Tyler Johnson. Clearly the cornerstone guy of this franchise at this point in time. The 5'8" diminutive forward is improving and could be a top 15-20 scorer in this league next season. The team is not exactly loaded with high end talent but it has enough offence in place to compete with players like Pominville, Gagner, Johansson, Boyes, Winnick and Hanzal.
The defense could use some bolstering and is probably the biggest area of concern outside of a weak prospect (see next segment) system. Green and Vlasic make a great 1-2, but after that you have Schultz, Engelland and Postma. This is easily addressed in Free Agency.
I wouldn't exactly say this was a super deep team but it has enough pieces to be a bubble playoff team and maybe a little better with trades/free agent signings.
In the System:
Top 3 prospects include:
1. D Dillon Fournier - A puck moving D-man. Highly skilled on the blades and considered a strong two-way defender. Injuries had slowed his development.
2. Paul Postma - Depth defenseman with a little upside. Good shot from the point and is a pretty good skater for his size. Should get some time on the blueline with the pro club this season.
3. Matthew Finn - Strong defender with offensive upside. Could be a strong 2-way defenseman. Skating is not a strong suit and he is a bit undersized. Also development slowed a little by injury.
We did rank Brandon Kozun #1 on the Wheat Kings list of prospects but rumor has it that he is looking at playing in the KHL in 2015/2016 figuring he could make more money there. The smallish forward is a great skater with offensive skills.
The Wheat Kings really have no one else knocking on the door of the GHA/SICHL levels but we do like Peter Quenneville for what he did in the WHL last year as an overager. Long shot to make a SICHL impact, but you never know.
Doug has six picks in the 2015 SICHL draft, but lacks a 1st rounder and will be in the same boat next year. His 2nd and 3rd rounders could pick up decent players as this is a deep draft. Although I suspect based on past history those picks could be moved to obtain players via trade.
When asked about the current state of his Wheat Kings, GM Karnes said "Well to start, I was a little disappointed that we didn't make the playoffs. Also the Wheat Kings will be losing 7 players to UFA. This will cause some concerns in the upcoming draft/UFA bidding process. On the bright side we do have a very good core of players, with Pominville, Hanzal, Johnson up front, Mike Green and Vlasic leading the dmen and Pavelec being the starting goalie."
I had to remind Doug it was 8 players to UFA! I also quizzed a fellow GM about his take on Brandon's affairs. "The Wheat Kings are a team poised for a rebuild. They had many a good runs, but it has taken the toll on their prospects. Although Doug is a great GM at trading for talent he needs to stay competitive so it wouldn’t surprise me if he was able to swing this bubble team back into contention."
I tend to agree with my some of my colleagues points concerning rebuilding, but it is always tough to decide when to blow it up or stay the course. Doug could get a lot of great assets quickly by moving Tyler Johnson and Jason Pominville and maybe even a few others. This is a tough league to win in. I believe Doug can continue to patch the holes but at some point it may be worth it to move the assets at a high value and start afresh. Which way will Doug go? We will soon find out. I suspect Doug will stay the course at least another season with the goal of making the playoffs. Once you are in the playoffs, anything can happen!
I will recommend that Doug look at the players on his books that are in the system as a number of them won't be playing hockey ever again at the pro level and that move could be financially sound as it costs $1000 to hold a players rights. Put that money into scouting and player development!