Sheffield Steelers target marquee signing to rival Belfast Giants’ capture

Steelers must move quickly to sign a "stellar player" on a par with Belfast Giants' J.J. Piccinich, Sheffield owner Tony Smith says.

Thursday, 2nd June 2022, 10:56 am

The decision by top points scorer Marco Vallerand to leave for Slovenian ice hockey has had an unsettling effect on some Sheffield fans.

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And the onus is now on coach Aaron Fox to do what defenceman Davey Phillips, amongst others, wants to see - to sign a new forward who might be even better than Vallerand.

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Smith, who is also chairman of the Elite League, said the EIHL had to remain a top-drawer division, as the fans expect to watch the best players available within the wage cap.

"Vally is a loss to this league right now. We have to replace him and very quickly" he said.

"We need a stellar signing. We need one or two players like Belfast picked up - a player such as Piccinich...someone who came out of lower leagues and who will go on to big money somewhere else, I am sure."

Coach Fox has stated that, from a recruiting perspective, "It’s always good to be able to show that guys can come here play well and still get those opportunities in other top leagues”.

Marco Vallerand - a dangerous player.

Smith sees the value in that, however, he stressed: "Personally, I don't want to move players on at all.

"You have to respect their wishes but we do everything we can to keep players in the Elite League.

"If a player has made his mind up or someone pushed a few more buttons, then they will be off.

"I don't want us to be a farm league or a development league."

Vallerand backchecking.

Smith said Vallerand has been open with Steelers during talks.

"Vally was always up-front in wanting to look at his options in Europe, Aaron would never try and hold a player. He wanted him to come back but only if he wanted to come back.

"Aaron made it clear: 'If that's your choice you go with our support and we'll be hoping you will try it for a season and come back to us.'

"Players want to put themselves in a bigger shop window in Europe, my understanding is (Oliver) Bettridge and (Josh) Tetlow have probably done the same - just get into Europe and see if anybody spots a bit of talent or potential."

J.J. Piccinich - the sort of player that Steelers are in the market for (photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

Smith said his club had made Vallerand "A very, very good offer" but added: "Remember we are governed in this league by a wage cap.

"We made him a good offer but maybe Olimpija Ljubljana gave him something better.

"He has obviously earned a lot of money over his playing career and it might and he might have just liked Ljubljana as a place to play."

Vallerand himself has said he joined Olimpija to "achieve goals as a hockey player and make maybe more money at the end of the day."

Interestingly, his new club says they haven't gone over the top with his salary, in comparison with others.

Head coach Mitja Šivic said: "We are really happy that he decided for us, despite the financially modest offer."

Whatever the size of his wage packet, Vallerand will be missed back in Sheffield.

"He is in my top two or three in my favourites" said Smith.

"He strikes you as a lazy skater but he is a lazy skater that can outstrip almost any player in the league!

"It's just his style, he has got such a talent in front of goal, you don't score that many season after season unless you have got a special talent.

"That is what we have to replace, goalscorers are the key."