Neil has agreed compensation with the Yorkshire club for the 26-year-old, the Elite League’s leading scorer. Standard Elite League contracts are unique in the fact that both the club or player can walk away from the deal giving 14 days’ notice. However, the league’s ten clubs have a gentleman’s agreement in place that they will not poach each other’s players.
Neil, who played for Steelers between 1992 and 1997, cleared his former club of any wrongdoing and said: “Ryan had been unsettled for a while but he’s been sticking with us. We got a call from his agent on Monday night saying more or less that he wanted to go back to a team in North America and the longer it went on the worse it would get.
“If Ryan did leave the country it would mean we get nothing, so rather than allowing that to happen, we knew that Sheffield had been showing an interest in him for quite a while. We have no issue with Sheffield doing this. They are now paying for his International Transfer Card, flights and equipment whereas, if he left for North America, we would get nothing.
“Of course it’s disappointing to lose a top player, but in this one instance this is the best outcome for the player and the club who are making the best of a bad situation.”
Hayes is the fourth import to leave the Caps this season and, although a replacement has been promised, a clearly disappointed player-coach Riley Emmerson, said: “This is something I’ve never seen before, but it’s a business decision. Sheffield are really pushing to win things and they’ve just got the leading scorer in the league and I wish Ryan all the best.
“I want to say to our fans: Our season’s not over. We still have a great group of players here and we’re only four points out of a play-off spot.
“It would be kind of funny if we rallied, made the play-offs and knocked out Sheffield – we have beaten them three out of four games this year.
“Hayes was unhappy and Scotty did what he felt was best for the club.
“If we’re prepared to let our leading scorer go, maybe this will act as a wake-up-call to the rest of the guys.”