September 30th, 2016

Tuesday’s Good Sport column: Watson, ‘Canes get what they deserve in deal


By Lethbridge Herald on May 19, 2015.

By Dylan Purcell
Well, it’s Peter Anholt’s team now, and you might as well to get used to it.
As a shareholders’ don’t-sell vote approaches for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Anholt continues to adjust his lineup, making this his team from the captain on down.
This prompts fans to search out conspiracy theories and decry the trade of a popular veteran in captain Jamal Watson.
I’ll miss Watson, not just because he was a good interview but because he was a fun player to watch on the ice. That speed and his willingness to rush the zone were something to see.
It has raised some eyebrows that Canes general manager Peter Anholt offered up the line “Watty’s hockey sense was maybe not the best” during an interview on Friday.
It was less of an insult, however, and more of an observation.
The way Anholt backed into the phrase “maybe not the best” shows his reluctance to actually provide a tough assessment of Watson’s abilities. And while Watson was a speed freak who could generate his own chances regardless of linemates, he was not an effective player in his own zone. Those legs and his work ethic overcame the “hockey sense” deficit to the tune of 26 goals this season but if you look at the players Anholt shipped out or sent home, he wants to win faceoffs and move the puck stick to stick.
He also wants to name his own captain, not inherit Drake Berehowsky’s. That, not Watson’s play, was likely the bigger reason for the deal.
For Watson, the trade is a godsend. He gets to leave his baggage in Lethbridge. The spectre of a career without playoffs is gone, as is the miscast captaincy. I admire Watson most because once he was named captain, he took the responsibility seriously and did a wonderful job.
Watson was more of a charismatic iconoclast than a paragon of leadership virtues, which is why he was miscast as a captain.
As I observed him, his best traits in the locker room were a sense of perspective, a sense of humour and an ability to question coaches and sometimes challenge them. Anholt, I think, would prefer a fiery presence not the wry wit of Jamal Watson.
And let’s face it, the Canes are going to be very young next season, and they should grow with their captain. Now Watson gets a chance to be back where he belongs, generating instant offence in a third- or fourth-line role that gives his coach a matchup threat.
That’s another thing. Watson was miscast as a top-line player. He’s at his best being the fastest player on the ice, and who he plays with doesn’t really matter. You could pair Watson with two bags of milk and they just need to crash the net and play some defence. Watson’s “million-dollar legs” are best taking the puck at their own blue line and then the impetuous skater can charge to the net on either a breakaway or a partial breakaway. Against the other team’s top defensive line last season, Watson spent too much time on the ice waiting for a pass which never came because of the other team’s puck possession.
Watson was an ugly minus-29 on the season but once Wong-Burke-Estephan started taking top-line minutes, Watson was a sleek minus-5, a respectable stat on a struggling team.
It sucks to lose a kid who never demanded a trade and who worked as hard as anyone for 270 games, but it was a good hockey trade for both.
Cory Millette is a journeyman but until fans see otherwise, they might want to trust Anholt’s assessment of his abilities.
•••
Sell? Don’t sell? WHL commissioner Ron Robison said a two-thirds vote of the league’s board of governors can move the Hurricanes, and that got a clear rumble of discontent from the gathered shareholders earlier this month. He had wisely avoided any mention of that, just as he never mentioned the Chilliwack Bruins. The Bruins were dumped by the league in favour of flavour-of-the-month market Victoria. While the Bruins were a private-to-private sale, the league’s top dog was selling their fans a similar shpeil in 2011.
On March 4, 2011, Robison told the Chilliwack Progress that “We would like to see better support, but we have a high level of confidence in Chilliwack. We believed in it five years ago and we continue to believe in its ability to support a WHL franchise.”
The team announced its move to Victoria on April 20, 2011.
And don’t get me started about a WHL-sized arena being talked about in Fort McMurray…
On the other hand, you’ll never see consistency until the team is sold. I’ve heard a lot of fans talk about this current iteration of the Hurricanes’ board of directors, but what will it look like in three years? In two years?
Robison is right about the financial viability of this team. They’re broke. The team is making preferred shares available because they know full well that survival depends on it. There are bills to be paid, not to mention figuring out the deal with former general manager Brad Robson, who sources say hasn’t been paid since he was fired in December.
Think about the board you saw two years ago. There were members of it running around, securing independent funding. They cancelled fundraisers because they couldn’t get out of their own way. Bills went unpaid for months on end. There were board directors who hadn’t seen a proper financial statement in ages and of course, that fairy-tale budget they presented at the last Annual General Meeting was a weird moment. J.R.R. Tolkien couldn’t have dreamed that one up.
This vote to vote to sell on June 1 is a big moment in the franchise’s history, possibly the biggest since the Memorial Cup run in 1997. I represent the Lethbridge Herald shareholding interest, but I won’t vote with that share.
That means it’s up to you to decide the course of major junior hockey in Lethbridge.

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