I reported on FanHouse last night (via our colleague James Mirtle) that former Gopher hockey player Blake Wheeler spurned an offer from Phoenix to become a free agent.
To make a short story long, Wheeler was drafted by the Coyotes four years ago. Because it had been four years (he played a year of juniors before playing three years with UMTC) since his draft year, Wheeler had the right to turn pro on his own, so to speak.
He could withdraw from school and activate a 30-day clock. If Phoenix failed to sign him, Wheeler would become an unrestricted free agent. The Coyotes would then receive the 35th overall pick in the NHL Draft (second round) as compensation.
Now, because Wheeler was drafted under the rules of the old Collective Bargaining Agreement (he was a pre-lockout pick), he would be able to receive a larger contract and more bonus money from Phoenix than he would if he became a free agent.
The Hockey News reports Wheeler could be leaving upwards of $225,000 on the table by nixing a potential deal with Phoenix. Now, this might sound like a lot of money, but if Wheeler has even a moderately successful pro career, it's a drop in the bucket. From his standpoint, it's a small fee to pay for the right to sign where he wants to play. His agent says that's what this is about. He wants to play where he wants, and not where the system sent him.
But is that the issue?
Look at the Phoenix roster. They already have the likes of Peter Mueller established as NHL players. Kyle Turris and Brett MacLean are on the way. There's a lot of competition for minutes among some really talented young players. Wheeler, meanwhile, comes in with a lot to prove (he was a bit of a disappointment at Minnesota).
The couple times I dealt with Blake during his time at UMTC, I found him to be an engaging, thoughtful, and intelligent kid. Nice kid.
And if this is what his agent says it is (Blake sacrificing some money for the chance to play where he wants), I think it's an interesting move. It's an arguable point. However, it's also a bad precedent. For a player drafted where he doesn't want to go, there is an out after four years. I don't like that. The draft exists for a reason, and it's not so players can find loopholes in the system and become free agents.