On Tuesday morning, team Governor and Owner Kelly McCrimmon announced that the Wheat Kings will not be extending the contract of former GM Grant Armstrong for the upcoming year. After joining the team on a three-year term in the 2016 season following a four-year stint with the Victoria Royals, Armstrong’s current deal was set to expire mid-summer.
Armstrong – who was the first GM in Brandon’s front office not named Kelly McCrimmon for the better part of three decades – knew he would face much scrutiny as ‘the replacement’, but that did not prevent the 57-year-old from making a handful of significant roster alterations… some that did not go over well with local fans.
High profile moves included shipping away stars Jordan Papirny (starting goaltender, Swift Current), Tanner Kaspick (captain, Victoria), Kale Clague (league’s top defenceman, Moose Jaw) and Schael Higson (top pairing defenceman, Kelowna).
“I’d like to thank Grant for his contribution to our organization,” said the soon-to-be Vegas Golden Knights’ GM McCrimmon in a press release. “He was responsible for many of the moves that will serve us well in the future. At the same time, I also felt a change was necessary as we look to return to a higher level as an organization.”
Taking over the team following back-to-back Ed Chynoweth Cup appearances in the WHL championship – including a resounding four-games-to-one victory over Seattle in the 2015-16 season – may have been one of the most difficult starting points for a rookie GM. Although serving as an Assistant to the General Manager with the Royals, the past three seasons were Armstrong’s first real kick at the can while holding free rein over a WHL team.
He did not fare too poorly, but ‘close’ only counts when it comes to hand grenades.
Under Armstrong, the Wheat Kings went a cumulative 102-87-25 in three seasons of play. His team’s best performance points-wise was the 2017-18 season, which also served as Armstrong’s deepest playoff run as GM. Going 40-27-5, the Wheaties lost in the semifinal, making it one round further than in 2016-17 – Armstrong’s first on the job.
2018-19 did not go according to plan for the then third-year General Manager. Despite a valiant second-half effort and a handful of winning streaks, Brandon ended its 68-game season with a record of 31-29-8, just two points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, missing the playoffs for the first time in six years.
There is no timetable in place for the pending search for a new General Manager, or the promotion of an inside figure for the open position.