Decision day looms for Bruins GM

Running a Western Hockey League team sounds like fun, and most days Marc Habscheid would agree that it’s among the best jobs in the world.

But spare him your envy on Monday.

Jan. 10 brings the annual WHL trade deadline, a day Habscheid loathes for many reasons.

“I hate it,” he said bluntly. “It’s so difficult because we have a responsibility to do what’s best for the organization, but at the same time you’re dealing with young men.”

Young men who may be called in to Habscheid’s office on Monday to be told they’ve been sent to Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince George or any of 21 possible destinations.

Even if they aren’t dealt, those players are guaranteed to spend the day on pins and needles, in the dark as to whether their lives are about to be totally disrupted.

“They’re smart and they know it’s coming up,” Habscheid said. “You’d like to go to all of them and tell them not to worry about it, but you can’t because the deadline hasn’t passed yet and we still have to do our job.”

Habscheid’s job is particularly tricky this year given the current landscape in the wild Western conference. Portland has been alone at the top all year, but Spokane and Tri-City have crept up since the Christmas break.

Meanwhile, seven teams are separated by six points. Chilliwack enters weekend play ninth in the conference, but wins over Kamloops and Seattle could catapult them to sixth in the blink of an eye.

“What’s intriguing about the trade deadline is the building of the team, not just for this year but next year and the year after,” Habscheid said. “There’s so many factors that go into that and it’s a lot to weigh as you evaluate potential deals.”

Habscheid’s biggest challenge in 2010-11 is deciding whether he’s a buyer, a seller or a tinkerer.

If he’s a buyer, it means he thinks the Bruins have a shot at a league title, and he’s going all-in to get the pieces he thinks the team needs.

Brandon Manning is gone for sure after this year, with Ryan Howse and Roman Horak most likely turning pro. The window is nearly closed for this veteran core.

Portland is the team Habscheid must measure them against this season.

While the GM has no doubt the Bruins could give the Winter Hawks some trouble, the reality is that Portland is a team of tremendous depth and talent that is built to win now.

Selling the farm to beat them may be ill-advised.

“Can they be beat? Absolutely, and we think we can have some success against them,” Habscheid noted. “But when they get all their players back and in place, they’re going to be very tough to beat. Do we gut the organization to try and go after them? I’m not sure we want to do that.”

If he’s a seller, it means he’s looking more towards the future, dealing a veteran or two for players/picks that will help next year, or the year after or the year after.

Habscheid’s history is one of tinkering, making smaller deals that help the team in the present without compromising the future. This time last year he dealt Mitch McColm to Regina for Matt Delahey.

The 20-year-old stabilized the defence and was a force in the playoffs. But that was the only acquisition of note as Habscheid declined to go too far in any one direction.

If he had a wish list this year, it would start with a top-pairing defenceman.

Failing that, a dependable Delahey-type veteran would be nice.

“There’s a lot of teams looking for those guys and the prices are very high,” Habscheid said. “Brandon’s injury situation (groin) comes into play too. Will he play or will he miss the rest of the season? Will he be in and out of the lineup? Right now, we don’t know. Hopefully we get a read on that soon because that will be part of our decision making process.”

A top-six forward would be nice too. As good as Brandon Magee has been this year, having a 16-year-old in a key offensive role is not ideal.

“He’s played pretty well and we tend to not lose as much when he’s in the top-six,” Habscheid said. “Can he do it the rest of the year? I don’t know, but it is tough for a kid that age to do it all year. I think with the forwards and the defence, we’d like to add depth.”

Catch trade deadline updates online Monday at www.theprogress.com and catch a full recap in Tuesday’s Progress sports section.

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