HAMILTON - Arland Bruce, to the surprise of nobody except perhaps his former teammates was traded Wednesday by the Hamilton Ticats to the B.C. Lions, where he will become Geroy Simon’s wingman.
The move, which brings Hamilton a third-round draft pick in 2012 and an additional conditional selection, comes less than 24 hours after Ticats general manager Bob O’Billovich denied the team was considering dealing the club’s leading receiver in 2010.
But O’Billovich did say there was always talk between clubs.
And, when the Lions agreed to pick up Bruce’s three-figure salary Tuesday night the deal was done.
“Arland? Traded?” asked running back Avon Cobourne, as the Ticats’ practice concluded, “when, where ... wow!”
Quarterback Kevin Glenn said he “had no clue it was going to happen. When you’re in this business it’s a shock but you know this kind of stuff happens. The guy was in films with us this morning, contributing, helping the young guys. So why would I have thought he’d be traded after practice?”
This was not how Bruce, or the Ticats, expected the season to unfold when the flamboyant receiver was signed to an extension through 2012 four months ago.
He helped turn a flagging franchise into a contender with 169 catches and 17 touchdowns in three seasons. But last year ended with him missing a key pass against the Argonauts. This year he never got untracked catching nine passes for 104 yards.
Then there were the injuries. He missed two games last year. He missed two more this year and was expected to miss this weekend’s game in Calgary with a sore hamstring. Wednesday, as he stood on the sidelines, a club official tapped him on the shoulder and said they needed to see him about something they’d been talking about on Tuesday.
Shortly after the club announced he’d been traded; that he wouldn’t be available to the media and was on his way to Vancouver.
“We weren’t shopping (him). Other teams had inquired and we’d turned other teams down. It wasn’t the first call we fielded but this one made sense for all parties,” said head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. “It’s a good opportunity for Arland. B.C. is getting a good football player. For us, it’s not something we necessarily set out to do but we were able to recoup ... draft picks ... and we (now) have some great young players we need to give playing time.”
Aside from his lack of production and injuries, Bruce seemed distracted at times and at age 33 there has been talk that perhaps he’d lost a step, or his incentive.
Bellefeuille insisted Bruce’s performance wasn’t an issue. “Some of the slow start was double coverage. He still has some good football in him. He’ll be productive in B.C.”
What was an issue is that Bruce had his No. 1 status usurped by a combination of Maurice Mann, rookie sensation Chris Williams and veteran Dave Stala. Nobody pays a No. 3 receiver six-figure salaries in the CFL.
“That could’ve played a part,” said offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones. “When you’re paid what Arland is paid and you’ve put up his (past) production people expect that of you. That‘s what that money means in a lot of instances. Not that he’s not a good player but we’ve kind of changed who our No. 1 guys are. That played a part of it.”
Bruce led the Ticats in receiving yards (1,303), receptions (86) and receiving touchdowns (eight) last season.
He also leads the league in eccentricity, including an announcement recently that he was changing his “slave” name. He did meet with club officials about his status within the offence, but Bellefeuille said there was no trade demand.
Glenn said there was never a falling out with teammates. “Nobody ever knows what someone else is thinking but he was always a great guy in the locker room. Never once had any problems with him as a quarterback.”
The Lions are hoping to bolster a passing game that, at 53.6%, has the lowest completion rate in the CFL. “Arland is an outstanding talent and one of the premier players in our league,” Lions head coach/GM Wally Buono said in a statement. “In addition to bringing a wealth of experience, Arland will mentor our younger receivers and also help balance the field for Geroy.”
The Lions have an average gain of 7.2 yards per pass, ahead of only Toronto, and hope Bruce’s reputation as a game-breaker will lengthen the field for quarterback Travis Lulay.
But, the question is, which Bruce shows up in Vancouver; the three-time CFL all-star, or the one who didn’t make a catch last week — then took himself out of the game — when the Ticats recorded their third consecutive victory.
Even the Ticats, it seems, aren’t certain whether there is another football chapter to be written in the enigma that is Arland Bruce. “He’ll land on his feet. He still has something left in the tank. How much is hard to say,” said Jones, who played with Bruce in 2001.
“He’s still a good athlete (but) when you get in your 30s you’re starting on the other side of your career. He’s been playing a long time.”