This weekend the news broke that Ben O’Connor’s contract with KHL club Barys Astana had been abandoned by newly appointed management with a desire to take the club in a “new direction”. Ben and his family now look to rearrange plans already in place for their move to Kazakhstan.
Whole new management got put in place at the start of the week and want to take the club in a new direction. Understandable but 💔
— Ben O’Connor (@Oconnor81ben81) June 9, 2018
What’s next for Ben?
Paul Thompson has said that the door remains open for Ben to return to the Steelers – which is hardly surprising seeing as he led the team in points last season – but also made it clear that time is a-ticking, with the window of opportunity to return to the club being limited. Although Ben’s role at the Steelers blue-line has not yet been filled, the Steelers have been in the market to do so. Replacing a Defenseman of Ben’s calibre and nationality was never going to be an easy task, but with the signing of Brit goalie Jackson Whistle for the upcoming season, it meant that Thompson had an extra import slot to utilise. It appears that a lot of planning had taken place in order for Ben to make the move to pastures new.
With Ben and the UK hockey community having their hearts set on having a Brit in next season’s KHL competition, I can’t help but feel that it would be a bit of an anti-climax for him to retreat to Sheffield without exploring his options, which Ben has made clear he intends to do.
“Sheffield have been good, they said if I ever wanted to come back they’d be interested, they’re always very supportive. I have to do what is best for me and my family. It would be silly not to see what is out there” – Ben tells The Star
Considering he was halfway through a 2-year contract with the Steelers, I can’t envisage him signing with a rival EIHL club. On top of that, as a high-end Brit, the price payable on signing Ben would potentially be substantial, with teams already budgeting for import defensemen.
He could head to North America in time for AHL or ECHL training camps, but the AHL is very much a young-guys league – players average 24 years old. With Ben turning 30 this year and the AHL primarily being a development league for young players hoping to get a shot at the NHL, I can’t see it being likely that he ends up there.
In my opinion, Ben could get offered a spot in the ECHL, but with the average ECHL’er earning around $500 a week, he wouldn’t obtain the same premium as he would being a high-end Brit in EIHL. I can’t see Ben making the move to North America with his family for a spot on an East Coast team on that basis.
On top of that, if Ben were planning to attend to AHL/ECHL training camps in September, he could potentially be passing up on decent offers in the meantime. With Thompson having stated that there is a limited timescale in which to return to the club, I can’t see Ben taking this risk either.
Is there potential for a spot on another KHL roster? That remains to be seen. But if not, then I genuinely hope that Ben gets an offer elsewhere in Europe, in a league of a higher calibre than the EIHL. Any experience gained at a higher level will be invaluable to Ben and Team GB heading into pool A of the world championships next year.
I hope Ben’s agent works well under pressure…