Tough call for Bruins GM

Shayne Neigum played 76 regular season and six playoff games for Chilliwack after being acquired from the Edmonton Oil Kings. The 20-year-old is now off to his next Western Hockey League stop

Most of the time, Marc Habscheid would tell you he’s got a pretty sweet gig.

How many people get paid good bucks to run a hockey franchise?

Habscheid is in his element when he’s on the ice or behind the bench, coaching his Chilliwack Bruins.

He probably feels like one of the luckiest guys in the world strolling into an arena to scout a future draft pick or upcoming opponent.

But like all jobs, it’s not perfect.

Being the Bruins GM means Habscheid has to make some tough decisions, as was the case late last week when he looked at Chilliwack’s four 20 year olds, and decided Shayne Neigum had to go.

Neigum was waived through the league on Thursday and picked up by the Kamloops Blazers, leaving Habscheid with his league-mandated three 20-year-olds; defencemen Brandon Manning and Jeff Einhorn and goaltender Lucas Gore.

On paper, just another transaction.

In reality, anything but.

“It was a very difficult decision to make,” Habscheid admitted. “He’s a character kid, a quality person and he was very popular around here. No matter who it was going to be, it was going to be a very tough decision.”

If Habscheid had let emotion play into his decision, he may have gone another way. But a good GM can’t do that.

He had to look at Chilliwack’s roster objectively and decide which players would benefit the Bruins the most between now and April.

Habscheid’s position was probably clarified the moment Tyler Stahl went down with a concussion, leaving the team with just six WHL-calibre blueliners, one of them (Jesse Zgraggen) a true rookie.

“It was more positional than anything,” Habscheid said of his decision-making process. “It came down to keeping a defenceman or a forward, and it’s unfortunate for Neigum.”

Neigum had been in and out of Chilliwack’s lineup this season, playing four of seven on nights when Braden Gamble replaced Gore in net.

With the recent addition of 18-year-old Mike Forsyth, Chilliwack had the depth to deal with no Neigum. But the Saskatchewan native’s absence will be felt as the Bruins try to replace the grit and leadership he provided.

Like Colton Grant last year, Neigum didn’t provide much offensively (11 goals and 24 points in 76 games), but his contributions went beyond the score sheet.

“He wasn’t fun for other teams to play against, and we’ll see if the group we have can provide that kind of tenacity and grit,” Habscheid said. “We’re aware of it, and if we can’t replace those elements internally, maybe we’ll have to find another guy, or another two guys, who can do that job.”

On the surface, it seems unfortunate that Neigum landed with Kamloops, a team Chilliwack will face six more times in the regular season.

Knowing Neigum, he’ll be jacked for those games and be a thorn in the side of the Bruins, as he was to so many of their opponents.

It would have been an ideal scenario to have him land somewhere in the Eastern conference, but Habscheid said that didn’t even enter into his thought process.

“I’m just really happy he found a good place to go where he’ll play and be in the league,” he said. “It’s tough for these 20 year olds who have to go back to junior A or go somewhere else. He’s such a great kid and I’m happy he’s still playing in our league.”

From day one, Habscheid talked about altering the culture of the Bruins, and acquiring guys like Grant and Neigum was as much about that as it was about on-ice performance.

“He did a lot to change the culture here, and I thanked him for that,” Habscheid said. “Especially the first year, the way these guys view themselves and view the team — to change that you need the leadership within the locker room and he was a big part of that.”

Habscheid and the Bruins have a home ice matchup with the Brandon Wheat Kings tomorrow night (7 p.m.) at Prospera Centre before leaving on a four-game road trip through Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Cranbrook.