August 03, 2011
If the CFL can have elements of a soap opera at times, Wednesday's episode featuring the trade of Arland Bruce III (or Runako Reth, depending on the day) from Hamilton to B.C. clearly has a recycled plotline. "Mercurial-but-talented wide receiver feuds with coach, is underutilized and is traded for spare parts? They did that one back in the 2009 season, and with the same guy!" However, the key question is if this story is going to turn out in similar fashion with Bruce fitting in with a new team and getting revenge on his old squad, or if there are going to be further twists. With Bruce (seen above in warmup for Hamilton's July 29 game), you never know if you'll get the professor of Hegelian philosophy or the one who's better-suited to minding the sheep dip.
On paper, this has the potential to be a season-altering deal for B.C., and one of the most lopsided CFL trades in recent history. The 2009 trade of Bruce from the Argonauts to the Tiger-Cats might have previously held the title, but at least they got a fine Canadian defensive lineman (Corey Mace, now with the Calgary Stampeders) out of the deal as well as two third-round picks. B.C.'s giving up just a third-round pick (and another conditional selection). It's worth pointing out that the 2009 trade went down as one of the lowest points of Bart Andrus' CFL tenure (of which there were many), and one of the low-water marks of the Argonauts' recent history. This certainly has the chance to be remembered as negatively in Hamilton.
Bruce may be two years older than he was during the 2009 deal, but his skills don't appear to have atrophied. The 1,303 receiving yards he put up in 2010 were the second-highest mark of his CFL career and the third-highest number in the entire league. Moreover, he's only 33, and that's far too soon to write a player off. Consider that B.C.'s leading receiver this season is 35-year-old Geroy Simon, who still appears to be in great form. 32-year-old Kamau Peterson has also impressed with the Lions when they've played him.
There are noted advantages to experience in this league, and receiver is an area where it often takes a while to adjust; the larger field, extra player on each team and different in-bounds rules (only one foot is required instead of the NFL's two) can make it tough for young receivers to adapt, and many of B.C.'s young guys have particularly struggled to hang on to passes this year. If Bruce can return to his 2010 form, that could drastically alter the B.C. offence for the better. (Those alterations are probably not going to start this week, though, as Bruce is apparently dealing with hamstring and eye injuries.)
In some leagues, it might seem silly for a 0-5 team to go after a mercurial veteran instead of focusing on a rebuilding effort, but this is the CFL. There's even more parity than usual this season, and the 0-5 Lions really aren't a terrible team. There are plenty of reasons to believe that they can turn things around, and they still have 13 games in which to do so. Bruce might just be a key piece for them, and if so, this is an absolute steal for the Lions.
There is a little logic on Hamilton's side, though. They've got younger receivers who are performing well, and Bruce was clearly starting to show his frustration. At his best, he can be a game-changing receiver, but at his worst, he can be a distraction and a disruptive influence. If the Tiger-Cats weren't planning to use him more heavily in the coming weeks, perhaps it's best for them to cut bait before things got worse. That's the question about this trade for B.C., too; will Bruce adapt to his new surroundings and focus on making positive contributions on the field, or will things go south again quickly and lead to more problems? Talented receivers with substantial egos haven't always fit in well after trades, as Randy Moss' 2010 season NFL demonstrates.
If this trade works out like the 2009 Bruce deal, B.C. coach/general manager Wally Buono just made one of the best CFL moves in years (and Hamilton general manager Bob O'Billovich one of the worst). If it plays out like the Moss moves last year, though, then the Tiger-Cats come away looking pretty smart for getting rid of a disruptive, highly-paid player and getting something in return. This could lead to a massive turnaround for the Lions, or it could be just something else that goes wrong. Whatever the result, though, stay tuned; this might just be the best Canadian soap opera since The Days Of The Week.