Warren: Bizarre moves not helping Turris

The late great E.J. McGuire, the jack of all hockey trades who spent the final years of his too-short life in charge of the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Bureau, was a big fan of Kyle Turris as a teenager.

The late great E.J. McGuire, the jack of all hockey trades who spent the final years of his too-short life in charge of the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Bureau, was a big fan of Kyle Turris as a teenager.

Watching him dominate the British Columbia Hockey League as a 16- and 17-year-old, McGuire said Turris bore more than a passing resemblance to Wayne Gretzky because of his skill and size.

Turris isn’t doing much these days to live up to those lofty words. In fact, he has stickhandled himself into a corner without even touching the puck.

ESPN.com reported last week that the 22-year-old, drafted third overall in 2007, had officially demanded a trade away from the Phoenix Coyotes rather than re-signing with the club.

Technically, he’s a restricted free agent, but his rights are retained by Phoenix, as is the case with all NHL players once their entry-level contracts expire. Coyotes general manager Don Maloney has dug his heels into the desert sand, saying the team “will not trade his rights under any circumstances.”

It’s a prickly situation in cactus country, especially considering the league is still running the Coyotes. Gary Bettman’s unsettled Groundhog Day scenario is a column for another day, but, as for Turris, I can’t get past the bold, superstar stance. Why is his agent, Kyle Overhart, taking him down this road?

Maybe one day Turris will be a front-line star, but he sure as hell isn’t there yet. He scored 11 goals and 14 assists in 65 games in 2010-11. He has only 19 goals and 27 assists in 131 games during his career: one goal every seven games, one point in every three.

Long before the current stalemate, critics suggested Turris had been rushed into the league too soon. When the sides were at least talking contract in the summer, reports suggested he was asking for more than $4 million per year on an extension, numbers Overhart has disputed.

Yet if Turris was the frachise-type player he perceived himself to be, rival teams would have already weighed in with offer sheets — a combination of future high draft picks — to steal him away from the Coyotes.

Again, it’s a strange strategy with countless risks.

If unsigned by Dec. 1, Turris risks missing the entire season. At 22, he’s in prime development territory, possibly losing a full year to his peers. The NHL is becoming younger and younger. Only weeks into their NHL careers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers and Gabriel Landeskog are already lighting up the NHL with goals.

Perhaps Turris is gauging his status by those who were chosen ahead of him in the 2007 draft: Patrick Kane and James Van Riemsdyk.

Kane is making $6.3 million per year on his new contract. After Van Riemsdyk’s initial deal expires at the end of this season, he’ll make $4.25 million every year until 2018.

Those two, however, have earned their big bucks. Kane is a genuine star, who already has a Stanley Cup title in his back pocket. After a slow start, Van Riemsdyk has established himself as a legitimate NHL power forward. He had two goals and an assist in one period last week. He has 40 goals and 42 assists in 164 games.

Then there’s the intangible issue of the baggage a player carries with him. When a younger player is involved in sour contract negotiations or trade demands which drag on, he gets tagged with a reputation as a trouble-maker, even if it’s the agent who is pulling the strings.

Now let’s compare Turris’s situation with that of former Ottawa 67’s star Logan Couture, who was chosen ninth overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2007, six spots after Turris.

Couture bided his time in the Sharks’ system, enduring countless cross-country treks from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts, to San Jose, before becoming a full time NHL player. Good on the Sharks for allowing him to eat some humble pie before tasting the steak.

Couture has already been through two long playoff runs with the Sharks. He came into this season with 37 goals and 28 assists in 104 regular-season games. He had seven goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games last spring.

Couture’s original contract expires at the end of the current season. He was in position to wait out the Sharks following this season. Alternatively, he might have received an offer sheet.

Instead, Couture agreed to a relatively modest two-year extension worth $5.7 million. If he progresses as expected, he’s in line for a huge payday as an unrestricted free agent when that deal expires at the end of the 2013-14 season.

At that point, few people will argue against him fighting for what he’s due. Turris, on the other hand, is losing value every day he doesn’t play.

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