Filthy Lucre, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Start Spending: The EIHL Off-Season So Far

Money is the anthem/Of success, so before we go out, what’s your address?”

Lana Del Rey: “National Anthem”

It may have been a quiet few weeks on Chasing Dragons (real life has well and truly got in the way, so for the two people who may actually have missed the posts, I apologize :)), but in British hockey we’ve seen all hell break loose. And as usual, pounds, shillings and pence has never been far away from the agenda-and once again, money is being thrown around UK hockey. This is happening, depending on who you support/believe, because your team is preparing to face some of the best in Europe (Nottingham) is after a top Brit but they all want too much money (Braehead et al, in one attempt to defend the rise of EIHL import numbers from 10 to 13 over the next three years, including three EU-passport holders, which was dealt with in the last post), British players deciding to drop a league for a chance to work outside of the game/for family/more ice-time and pay in the EPL (see Danny Meyers from Sheffield, Tom Norton from Nottingham and Sam Zajac/Matt Towe from Braehead so far-apply your own reason to each one), or, in a more optimistic view, because teams have more spending power and are better able to throw money around at better-quality players.

But, strangely, it’s not quite the usual suspects throwing it around. After responding to the rise in imports with the defence that the Clan were having trouble attracting top British players due to a combination of wages and players not wanting to relocate, the Braehead management have gone for an early statement of intent this off-season, signing up four players, including young British defensive prospect Zach Sullivan. However, the biggest signing they’ve made so far is, ironically, the very “top Brit” they said they were struggling to attract.

Ben Davies has been lured away from Cardiff to the Clan with the promise of more ice-time, more money and, very likely, of a more stable environment than he’d receive at Cardiff-indeed people around the league say that Davies was telling all EIHL teams exactly what he wanted to come and sign for them this off-season, which implies at the very least that he wanted out of the Devils situation quickly. He’s believed to be on a wage in excess of £600 a week at the Clan (certainly that’s what reports had him asking for when contacting other teams, which is a good chunk of money for a 23-year-old developing Brit, but could turn out to be a bargain in the future.

Meanwhile, Coventry have also been signalling their early intent, raiding the struggling Devils for shot-blocking defenceman and Cardiff fan favourite Mark Smith. Smith was rumoured to be one of several players unhappy in Cardiff over issues with the ownership and their treatment of players, and we’ve seen the Blaze take advantage to get a shot-blocking stay-at-home defenceman that was conspicuously absent from their roster last season.

However, the Blaze topped that a few days later and at the same time made a statement of serious financial commitment, tempting playoff-winning captain and possibly the EIHL’s most hard-working player away from Sheffield as they surprised the EIHL with the signing of Steven Goertzen.

This signing, like the Smith one, was greeted by sadness from the leaving team and immense pleasure from those in Coventry, although it very quickly saw Steelers fans asking just how Gerad Adams had let his playoff-winning captain depart.

Talk around the league has Sheffield not offering Goertzen a contract, not because they didn’t want to, but because coach Gerad Adams has had a restructured budget this year that means he simply can’t afford to continue the near-four-figure weekly wage of their captain, and decided that it was fairer to Goertzen to allow him to seek new opportunities rather than offer a potentially demotivating sharp pay cut.

The Blaze, desperate for an “impact” signing early on, were more than willing to stump up the difference-a near-four-figure wage for a player who “only” scored 12 goals and 38 points last year seems steep, but anyone who’s seen the Canadian play will agree that he earnt every single penny of his money last season.

While teams on the bubble like Braehead and Coventry have been splashing the cash around on impact new recruits, we’ve seen Belfast and Nottingham adopt the more conservative strategy of simply locking up their key players early on-the Panthers have locked up Rob Lachowicz while the Giants have been re-signing the likes of Daryl Lloyd and Adam Keefe under new Director of Hockey Steve Thornton.

Curiously, though, Sheffield are holding their financial cards close to their chest-letting Danny Meyers go and so far “only” going after the returning Rod Sarich as a “new” player…hardly a big-money response-the cut budget for the PO captain implies that Gerad Adams is already looking elsewhere-perhaps to former Cardiff players like Tylor Michel or even Stuart MacRae to back up the “marquee” signing/return of Rob Dowd. Meanwhile, Fife are making a strong signing in Kevin Regan as they, too, stick to what they know.

Cardiff, meanwhile, have already lost the momentum gained by the signing of GB goalie Ben Bowns from Hull, and with the loss of two fan favourites in Smith and Davies, they need to start seeing players coming in through the door rather than out to keep the restive natives quiet. Rumours of unpaid bills to players, suppliers and now the bank aren’t helping their cause.

So far, though, the main theme of this off-season as described above seems to be “money”. Particularly in the way it’s being spent by supposed “smaller” teams looking to break into the arena team bracket. Coventry in particular are already giving the lie to their “small team who simply can’t compete financially with arena teams” protestations.

Of course, it’s only mid-May, so there is plenty of time for the “big” clubs to start using their financial muscle, if they’re not doing so already. But it’s clear that Marc Lefebvre is aware of the need to convince Blaze fans of his mission early-a mission that will only be more crucial since he was chosen by the management for the Blaze job ahead of other potentially more illustrious/”name” candidates such as former Blaze player and current Fife assistant Danny Stewart and the fast-rising former Swindon Wildcats and current GB U-20 Pete Russell for the Blaze job this season. Ryan Finnerty, too, is wasting no time building on his word in Glasgow last year and clearly looking to take Braehead up from the pack of bridesmaid teams to genuine title challengers.

The theme so far this offseason is of “chaser” teams in the EIHL openly loosening the purse strings and searching for statement signings early as they attempt to either rebound from a disastrous season (in Coventry’s case) or take another step forward (Braehead). Now the question is, with the pursuing teams openly stating their intention of catching up, how will the “big three” of Sheffield, Nottingham and Belfast react, particularly with the Panthers also having a Champions Hockey League campaign to plan for?

The EIHL off-season has already started off intriguingly. It’s only going to get more so as we move further into the summer, but the big question already is just how loose the purse strings in the “chasing” teams may get, and whether or not this will spark another EIHL arms race…

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