DULUTH - Before Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle went on vacation Tuesday, he made sure all eight of the team's allowable qualifying offers were in the mail.
The deadline to extend those offers is 11:59 p.m. Saturday, and Pyle didn't want to worry about it while he was in California visiting his wife Cathy's family. Beside, it wasn't a difficult decision - only eight players from last year's team were eligible for the offer.
Two players (Danny Eberly and Derek Nesbitt) are free agents as per the contracts they signed last year, captain Cam Brown retired and veteran defenseman Rick Emmett may follow suit - although even if Emmett returns, he's certain to sign with the Gladiators because his family is settled in Gwinnett.
The rest of the roster was made up of players on NHL or AHL contracts.
So who did Pyle send contracts too?
Chris Durno, Matt York, Jon Awe, Brian Teixeira, Pascal Pelletier, Jeff Campbell, Scott Mifsud and Sean Fields got the eight qualifying offers permitted by the league.
The ECHL's collective bargaining agreement specifies that teams have the right to extend those contracts to eight players from their 20-man season-ending rosters. The offer must be at least 5 percent higher than the player's salary last season. Players who don't receive this contract - or haven't already re-signed - will be considered unrestricted free agents as of midnight Sunday.
Only one player from Gwinnett, Jared Ross, fell into that category. Ross was called up to the Gladiators' AHL affiliate in Chicago the second day of the ECHL season and never returned. Pyle said the Wolves were likely to sign the centerman from Huntsville, Ala., this season and that was why he didn't send Ross one of the qualifying offers.
Those players that received offers have until Aug. 1 to sign and may not be traded during that time. If they refuse to sign, the team still retains said player's ECHL rights until June 6, 2007.
"If they don't take the qualifying offer, we negotiate from there," Pyle said. "But it gives us their rights in the ECHL."
Which is why players like Durno and Pelletier are on the list. Both forwards were called up to the AHL (Milwaukee and Providence, respectively) early last year and spent the vast majority of the 2005-06 season at the next level. But if they should somehow not sign an AHL deal this summer, Pyle wants to make sure another ECHL team can't ink them.
Utility man, defenseman turned forward Steve Slaton's rights reverted back to Texas. Slaton only signed with Gwinnett after the Wildcatters were washed out by a hurricane last year.
One other former Gladiator, Mike Vigilante, has an offer in hand and Pyle expects him to sign shortly to make his return to Gwinnett official. The three-time All-Star coach has spent the last few weeks - since the Gladiators were defeated in the ECHL finals - recruiting college players and already has a couple verbal commitments.
"I have to figure out what Atlanta will sign and send," Pyle said. "It's a trickle-down effect. So I don't want to over-recruit."
As always, Pyle will play a bit of a waiting game to see what players may be assigned to Gwinnett from AHL Chicago and its NHL affiliate, the Atlanta Thrashers.
"In the next month, we're going to have a real good idea what's going on with them," Pyle said.
Pyle is missing the Thrashers prospect camp, which begins July 7 at the IceForum in Duluth and will include Atlanta's most recent draft picks. But he is going to Traverse City, Mich., for an annual tournament between prospects of six NHL teams. It's held a few days before NHL training camp and Pyle has helped out before.