The Brandon Wheat Kings said goodbye to their longest-serving player on Tuesday and he may not be the last veteran to go before Thursday’s Western Hockey League trade deadline.
Overage defenceman Ryley Miller, who made his debut with the Wheat Kings as a 16-year-old rookie in 2008-09, was placed on waivers, giving every other WHL team a chance to claim him.
"We made the move based on the fact we felt it was in the best interests of our hockey team at this time," Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "Weighing all factors, we felt this was the right move and right decision moving forward."
A big hitter from Spruce Grove, Alta., Miller had eight goals, 29 assists and 537 penalty minutes in 241 career games as a Wheat King. The move got Brandon down to the WHL limit of three 20-year-olds, with left-wingers Mike Ferland and Nick Buonassisi and defenceman Tyler Yaworski forming the overage trio. At least for now.
McCrimmon has reportedly been having trade discussions regarding Ferland, but he said Tuesday’s transaction will not affect his deadline decisions.
"(It was an) independent decision," he said. "It has no bearing on what else we may or may not do."
The Wheat Kings are believed to have two of the top talents available before Thursday’s 4 p.m. CT trade deadline, with Ferland and skilled 19-year-old Swiss left-winger Alessio Bertaggia being bandied about a rumour mill short on big names.
Here’s a look at some of the other teams to watch before the deadline:
Calgary Hitmen — Fitting for a deadline that could see more tinkering than blockbusters, the Hitmen added Jesse Zgraggen this week to an already-deep blue-line. If the Hitmen have a big move in them, expect it to be up front with the club third in the Eastern Conference, but only seventh overall, in goals scored.
Edmonton Oil Kings — Head coach Derek Laxdal is preparing for the possibility Griffin Reinhart could be lost to the NHL, but the Oil Kings are strong on ‘D’ and will soon get Martin Gernat back from a shoulder injury that has kept him out all season. If anything, they could use some size up front and they have an empty overage spot to fill. The question is, did they already make their big splash with the acquisition of David Musil in October?
Kamloops Blazers — The Blazers recently filled their last 20-year-old spot with power forward Kale Kessy. Kamloops doesn’t have a really offensive-minded defenceman, but acquisitions this season like Brandonite Joel Edmundson suggest the Blazers are more interested in building their blue-line around size.
Kelowna Rockets — The Rockets have overtaken the Blazers for the B.C. Division lead and could be contemplating a run. However, they’re solid up front and on ‘D’, with good talent returning next year, so they may remain quiet.
Portland Winterhawks — Does losing several draft picks due to WHL sanctions make the Winterhawks more likely to conserve their remaining choices, or go all out to reach the Memorial Cup this season? Leading the league in goals for and against, the club has no glaring weaknesses.
Prince Albert Raiders — The Raiders may have made their move already with the addition of Dylan Busenius and Jayden Hart, but it will be interesting to see if their 0-3 record since that trade affects their thinking. The Raiders have the highest goals against of any of the top seven teams in the overall standings and might be interested in a defensive-minded blue-liner.
Red Deer Rebels — The Rebels hold the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, but are they good enough to play with the big boys? If head coach/GM Brent Sutter believes they would be with a key pickup, he’s got an overage spot to play with. Middle of the pack in goals against, the team could use some defensive help.
Saskatoon Blades — The Memorial Cup hosts’ middling record and streaky play suggest they could use an upgrade, and head coach/GM Lorne Molleken has confirmed he is looking at a number of moves. The club may look for an experienced backup goaltender.
Kootenay Ice — The Ice probably don’t have much to offer a contender beyond a pair of overagers in forward Brock Montgomery and defenceman Joey Leach. Blue-liner Jagger Dirk, 19, might tempt teams but the Ice likely have plans for him next season.
Prince George Cougars — With former No.1 overall pick Alex Forsberg at home waiting for a trade, a deal is coming for the Cougars, but there’s nothing saying they have to make it now. Colin Jacobs would have value if the Cougars put him on the block and a team looking for a veteran backup goalie might be interested in Mac Engel.
Vancouver Giants — The last place team in the WHL, the Giants don’t have much veteran talent left. Forward Trevor Cheek could find a home with a team willing to add an overager.
ASK AGAIN FRIDAY:
Swift Current Broncos — The Broncos are below .500 and Adam Lowry would be one of the prizes of the deadline. But with Swift Current in post-season position after two years on the outside, don’t count on that happening. If the Broncos were to sell, they might be willing to part with big Czech defenceman Richard Nedomlel.
AROUND THE WHL: The Everett Silvertips have fired head coach Mark Ferner and assistant Chris Hartsburg. GM Garry Davidson, a Souris native and former Brandon University Bobcat, will run the bench for the rest of the season. "In the short term our goals have not changed," Davidson said in a news release. "We will continue developing our young team and still plan to contend for a playoff spot." … Calgary C Cody Sylvester is the WHL player of the week after tallying two goals and six assists in four games.