Friday, May 30, 2008

Blake Wheeler rejects 'Yotes contract offer, becomes UFA

Phoenix prospect Blake Wheeler, formerly a top 10 pick in the draft, is becoming a free agent without ever setting foot on NHL ice.

After rejecting the Coyotes' latest contract offer, the 21 year old winger is not eligible to return to the draft. Instead he gets Unrestricted Free Agent status and can sign with any team of his choosing.

He's still restricted to an entry level contract with whoever he latches on to, but that's not really the point here.

By all accounts the Coyotes offered him a maximum rookie contract or something very close to it. Plus Phoenix is a fairly weak team that could certainly find a place on its top 2 lines for a talented scoring winger. So if the issue isn't money, and it's not playing time, then by all appearances Wheeler's decision to jump the good ship Coyote is based on him not wanting to play in Phoenix.

This sets a dangerous precedent. If a prospect doesn't like the team he is drafted by, why not try and get free agency then go wherever you want? That mindset starts to invalidate the draft. Why bother having one if players are going to choose their own destination? The purpose of the draft is to let the bad teams get better, and since many players won't want to report to the teams like Phoenix or Atlanta, they'll just continue to get worse as they desperately try and find someone willing to stick with them.

The thing here is that I don't know what you could do to stop this. Use a slotted salary system where the money is 100% set for you at a given draft spot? In theory that would work, but you'd have to stipulate it with the promise that people who opt for later UFA status must take much less money wherever they do sign. That would foce players to choose between the money that the system says they deserve and the place they want to be. Unfortunately, the union would never go for this, as the player has "earned" his UFA status by forgoing several years of paid employment anyway.

I think in teh end what gets me is that it's another example of whiny "me first" culture amongst young athletes who believe that everything is owed to them as they come into their league. Players should be grateful they've been drafted, and play with whoever is willing to give them a chance.

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