Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Greener pastures not often so for players

Former Thrashers draft pick Mike Vannelli was sent down to Wheeling of the ECHL yesterday after failing to crack the Philadelphia Phantoms roster as a rookie. This is ironic, given that Vannelli decided not to sign with the Thrashers after graduating from the Univ. of Minnesota, in order to seek out greener pastures (in more ways than one). It would be hard to argue that what he found was greener. The scenery in West Virginia is lovely, but it's not a hockey destination.

Vannelli's situation is something I've seen several times over the years, mostly with prospects, but sometimes with NHL regulars as well (Frank Kaberle comes to mind there). Players think they will get a better offer elsewhere than they do. I suppose you can't blame them for trying, but often they are just not very realistic about their value the market. Vannelli was a good college blueliner, but has questionable pro upside.

A couple years ago, Brian Sipotz was at the end of his entry deal with the Thrashers. The Thrashers made him a qualifying offer, but Sipotz ended up signing directly with the Chicago Wolves instead, where he had been playing throughout the contract. I had interviewed Sipotz the year before, and he seemed like an intelligent guy, so I just couldn't get my head around why he would do that, and then turn around and sign with the farm club. While I was in Chicago that winter, I saw him on my way out after the game so I stopped him and questioned him on it -- did I misunderstand somewhere along the way? He turned down his qualifying offer? Why? What reason did he have to do that? Sipotz was extremely nice about it, much nicer than I think I would have been if someone, anyone, came up to me and questioned me about my career decision-making. He said he felt he might find a better opportunity with another NHL team. Since it didn't happen, he came back to the Wolves. He said he wasn't giving up and was still hopeful for next year. Did he end up being right? Well, he was a tryout at Columbus Blue Jackets camp this year, but is back with Chicago. He didn't find a greener pasture, but I suppose he can sleep better knowing that he had the opportunity to explore.

The best non-Thrashers example that comes to mind is Trevor Hendrikx. The Blue Jackets drafted him in 2003, in the ninth round. The two sides were unable to come to terms on a contract in 2005, which is a nice way of saying Hendrikx turned them down, so he re-entered the draft. In the seventh round (which was then the last round), the Jackets selected him again. The two sides settled on a contract shortly thereafter. The grass didn't get any greener for him -- no other team picked him. All it did was prove that the Jackets liked him better than all the other teams - which of course is how they ended up together in the first place.

And that's almost always going to be true years later as well, the team that drafted the player values him more than other teams. Dance with the team who brought you? History shows this seems to be the best course.

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