Aaron Fox happy to play waiting game over new faces at Sheffield Steelers

AARON FOX says he is having to hold off pulling the trigger on new faces for next season’s Sheffield Steelers roster as he waits to see how the ice hockey landscape develops in the coming months.

PATIENT APPROACH: Sheffield Steelers' head coach and GM Aaron Fox. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

With the sport still on lockdown all over the world due to the coronavirus pandemic it is very much a waiting game for coaches and GMs in all leagues – from the NHL down – regarding who they will bring in for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the NHL hoping to push ahead next month with a revised playoff format to bring a conclusion to its current season, the rest of the sport is largely on hold in terms of recruitment until it becomes clear when the world’s top league chooses to face-off for the 2020-21 campaign.

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Fox is confident of retaining a sizeable core from the Steelers’ team that managed to end the club’s 17-year wait for the Challenge Cup in March before the season was cancelled because of Covid-19.

Aaron Fox is clear who he wants to retain from last season, but is biding his time over fresh recruits. Picture courtesy of Dave Williams/EIHL.

It is thought several players have agreed terms to return next season but, so far, only captain Jonathan Phillips has been announced as returning, joining David Phillips, Robert Dowd and James Bettauer who are halfway through two-year deals.

But in terms of new faces coming in, Fox admits he will have to bide his time with the annual trickle-down effect from more highly-regarded leagues in bothNorth America and Europe expected to come later than normal this year.

“It’s about being patient and making sure you get it right,” Fox told The Yorkshire Post. “I’m happy with the core that we will end up having back but I think we’re in a good position to wait and fill those other gaps because things might change in other countries which might open up the possibility of signing a different level of player.

“I’m having to be patient but then so is everybody else. There are some teams that have done a few signings within the league, like a player switching from one team to another, but for the likes of us, Cardiff, Nottingham and Belfast, some of the so-called bigger teams, you want to be bringing in as high end a player as you can and I don’t think you’re going to get that right now.

Captain Jonathan Phillips was confirmed as returning to the Sheffield Steelers last month. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

“That is just the reality. I don’t think you can talk a DEL or AHL-type player into coming here at the moment with all the uncertainty.

“There’s a trickle down effect on everyone else from the NHL. It is a big waiting game for everybody else below that. It’s always going to be that way and it might be extended now.

“If we can play in October or November and they (NHL) can’t play until January that is a long time for guys to be waiting to play and they might want to get started before that.

“As a result, some guys that normally wouldn’t be available to European teams might become available.”

Sheffield Steelers celebrate their Challenge Cup triumph in Cardiff last season. Picture courtesy of EIHL.

One of the issues hampering Fox and his rivals is the uncertainty over how long the Elite League season will actually be, something that clearly has a direct impact on playing budgets.

In April, EIHL bosses revealed they hoped to launch the 2021 season a month later than normal at the beginning of October with a Magic Weekend involving all 10 teams being staged at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre, similar to what rugby league’s Super League has staged for several years.

Roster sizes are also scheduled to change, with a maximum of 18 skaters and two netminders dressed for each game, although it is thought this is set for further discussion in light of the impact felt from Covid-19.

Teams will also only be allowed to make a maximum of 18 import signings during the course of the season although, again, this may also be reviewed.

Last week, in perhaps the clearest indication yet over the uncertainty facing the EIHL and the sport in general, Glasgow Clan announced their plans to appoint a successor to head coach Zack Fitzgerald were effectively on hold until start and end dates for next season were determined.

Gareth Chalmers, the Clan’s chief operating officer, told the British Ice Hockey website: “The current period will be one of the most demanding in the history of the club, the EIHL and the professional game in the UK – this current climate is game-changing.

“We currently aren’t in a position to appoint a head coach until we have some clear defined start and end dates for 2020-21.”

In the meantime, Fox will keep a watchful eye on the market.

“I’m watching a lot of tape and I’ve got a lot of lists of players from agents and I’m still talking to agents every day,” he said. “That side hasn’t changed much, it’s just about pulling the trigger and I’m just not ready to pull the trigger so much right now.”

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