Thursday, May 29, 2008

Coyotes lose Wheeler

Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney announced today that Blake Wheeler, selected by the Coyotes in the 2004 Entry Draft, has rejected the Coyotes contract offer and will become an unrestricted free agent.

“We offered Blake a contract which was both commensurate with his draft position and far exceeded any guaranteed contract he can receive, under the current CBA, with any other team,” said Maloney. “He has decided, however, that becoming a free agent is in his best interest.

“We are very happy with the compensatory pick we will receive for Blake not signing, which will be the fifth pick in the second round. This is a very deep draft and we now have five picks in the first two rounds, which is very exciting.”

Under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, any player who does not remain a college player through the graduation of his applicable class (in this case 2009), must submit a letter stating his intention to turn professional. Upon submission of that letter, the drafting club shall have 30 days to sign the player. If the player and team cannot reach an agreement within that 30 day period, the player becomes a free agent. Wheeler submitted his letter of intention to turn professional on May 8.
To the surprise of many, Phoenix drafted Wheeler fifth overall four years ago out of high school, and he's had a little bit of a rocky ride in the NCAA.

It's expected, however, that he'll have plenty of suitors in the NHL given his size and skill package.

UPDATE The Arizona Republic has more.
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10 Comments:

At 6:17 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger Matt said...

Does this mean that Wheeler didn't think Phoenix was a good fit for him? Is that because he would get more ice time somewhere else? Maybe they already have enough young talent in Phoenix. Did Phoenix do something to intentionally get the draft pick instead?

 
At 7:51 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7:52 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Wheeler was an odd case, because Phoenix picked him as a junior in high school. I never really thought that that was a good idea, but, hey, they aren't my draft picks.

At Minnesota, Wheeler was largely a non-entity for his first 1 1/2 seasons. During the second half of his sophomore year (2006-07), he finally started to blossom. He learned how to use his size better. His hands got a lot better, and he started to put the puck in the net.

For the first half of last year, he was a dominant player. He finally looked like a guy who was a legitimate draft pick, though never good enough to justify that selection. He then disappeared the second half of the year. How much of it was him, and how much of it was the fact that *all* of the Gopher's offense vanished over the second half of last year is probably a chicken/egg question. Regardless, no one, including Wheeler, was able to put the puck in the net. The team looked like it should be scoring more goals, but it didn't.

Keep in mind that Wheeler was playing out of position last year. He's a natural winger, but we were really thin up the middle, and he was inserted at center. He never looked very comfortable there, and should do better moving off the position.

If I had to guess, I'd say that this was probably a mutual decision. Phoenix way overdrafted here. I'd rather have the 35th pick in the draft than Blake Wheeler at the moment. I thought that it was kind of odd that he filed an official declaration to turn pro. That almost never happens. Kids usually just go ahead and sign a contract, but don't make such a filing, so that they are still eligible to come back to school if the contract negotiations don't work out. From Wheeler's perspective, being a free agent is a better deal than being the property of Phoenix.

I did not know about this business that an NCAA player could become a free agent in this manner. It will be interesting to see if it comes up again.

 
At 9:34 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

J. Michael Neal makes a great point:

Blake Wheeler was WAY overdrafted. He was projected as, and played with the Gophers like, a late first round draft pick.

I know hindsight is 20/20, but seriously, there's no fault for Gretzky to like Wheeler. He has a good skill set, but the wisdom now shows that Wayne should have traded down in the draft and benefited from an extra 2nd rounder back then. That 2nd rounder would now be either well on his way towards the NHL or in the system already, and this wouldn't be as big of a loss as it is turning out to be.

You don't let 5th overall picks get squandered like this.

So, yeah, Phoenix gets 5 picks in the first two rounds, but how many of those picks will make the NHL before Wheeler would? Phoenix is giving up a lot for a player who is perhaps 3-5 years from the NHL...maybe more.

Wheeler was more than likely a lock for the NHL, or at least a short stint with the AHL before going to the NHL. I don't see how some other team would give him any better of a deal. The only other teams that would give him assurances for almost immediate time at the NHL level are as bad or worse than Phoenix.

Just my opinion

 
At 9:57 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I did not know about this business that an NCAA player could become a free agent in this manner. It will be interesting to see if it comes up again." I think this case will be extremely rare, it only happened because he played 1 year in the USHL before going to college.

I think it is overly optimistic to think that he will just step in to the NHL when you consider the struggles he had in the NCAA. By rejecting the contract he will make less than was offered and iirc can only sign a 2 year deal.

The legacy of Mike Barnett is nothing but sadness and pain for anyone that watches the Coyotes and with Wheeler leaving it is one final nail in that terrible chapter. How could anyone justify drafting such a huge project instead of Radulov or Stafford...

 
At 11:29 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I think this case will be extremely rare, it only happened because he played 1 year in the USHL before going to college.

That isn't what makes Wheeler unusual. Most of the players at top NCAA programs play a year or two in the USHL before they head to campus. What is unusual about him is that he was drafted after his junior year in high school, rather than his senior year, or his freshman year in college, as is usual. I'm not sure exactly what the criteria were that led to that.

I would have to look at the CBA, and maybe I will in the next couple of days, to see exactly what the ramifications are of opting not to sign with the team that drafts you. The Republic article says that other teams can't offer him as much money as the Coyotes could. I have no idea how far down that extends.

The NHL has a history of leaving goofy loopholes where NCAA players are concerned. Mike van Ryn and Mike Comrie both left Michigan after their sophomore year to become free agents. They closed that one, but I wouldn't be surprised if there is a case of the Law of Unintended Consequences at work here.

 
At 11:07 AM, May 30, 2008, Blogger general borschevsky said...

“We are very happy with the compensatory pick we will receive for Blake not signing, which will be the fifth pick in the second round."
Confused: Where does the compensatory pick come from? Thin air?

 
At 11:40 AM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might be over-analyzing, but the Coyotes did say that no other team could offer him as much "guarenteed money" in a contract. Perhaps with incentives the deals would still be able to match what Phoenix was offering?

I agree though, the thought that any NCAA player can simply declare himself a FA is worrisome.

 
At 3:14 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike van Ryn and Mike Comrie both left Michigan after their sophomore year to become free agents.

Not quite, with Comrie. The midget left college (where he would have remained Oilers chattel) and went to play for the Kootenay Ice in the Western junior league. At which point the Oilers had a deadline of some sorts to sign him or lose him to free agency.

Back then, drafting a college player meant a potential 4-years of "free" development for your slave. The Wheeler case indicates that the current CBA has given college players the same opportunity as junior-league players to escape the plantation.

 
At 10:51 AM, June 12, 2008, Anonymous Daniel said...

Wheeler seems to have a good upside. I'm hoping the Rangers are able to sign him.

 

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