Some NHL veterans looking to extend their careers as camps open
NHL rosters will be mostly set when training camps open this week, with only a couple of spots in each team’s 23-man lineup up for grabs.
Every season, there are veterans looking to extend their careers by taking those spots — usually from a younger prospect — even if it means entering camp on tryout basis.
Players on a professional tryout contract, known as a PTO, have no security, only an opportunity to prove they deserve another NHL deal. Very few players are successful and many are left pondering whether they should play overseas or in the minors, or retire.
“You never want to hope there’s an injury to get a job but for some of these guys, it’s what needs to happen,” said agent Allain Roy, of RSG Sports. “You’re excited to get an opportunity but you’re not happy to be at that point (in your career.)”
He calls players on professional tryouts an “insurance policy.”
“A very small percentage are true opportunities,” he said. “But I think if a guy goes through camp and he outperforms a young guy then that conversation has to happen.”
As of Tuesday morning, there were 40 players expected to attend camps on tryouyts.
Many are familiar names who once had lucrative guaranteed contracts: Defenceman Cody Franson, 30, with Chicago; forward R.J. Umberger, 35, with Dallas; forwards David Booth, 32, and PierreAlexandre Parenteau, 34, with Detroit.
There are plenty with Canadian teams too, including defenceman Eric Gelinas, 26, in Montreal; forward Chris Kelly, 36 in Edmonton; forward Chris VandeVelde, 30, in Ottawa; forwards Tanner Glass, 33, and Joseph Cramarossa, 24, in Calgary; and forwards Scottie Upshall, 33, and Ryan White, 29, in Vancouver.
Upshall has been through this before when he converted a tryout with St. Louis into two seasons with the Blues.
Twenty-one teams have at least one skater attending camp looking for a last hurrah. The L.A. Kings lead the way with five invitees, including forward Brooks Laich, who spent last season buried in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies.
“Fired up to be attending the #LAKings training camp, grateful for the opportunity and can’t wait to put all my summers prep into action!” the 34-year-old tweeted.
Last season, Kris Versteeg was one of the lucky ones. He went to Edmonton’s camp on a tryout and got the attention of the Flames, who offered him a one-year NHL contract.
Versteeg did have to settle for less money as he was coming off a fouryear, US$17.6-million contract and had his salary cut to just $950,000. He went on to produce 15 goals and 37 points in 69 games and was resigned by the Flames for $1.75 million this season.
“I definitely feel the economics of the game are kind of crunching the middle (salary) guys out a little bit,” said Roy. “That’s driving some vets out because some of the younger players coming up are going to be a little cheaper. The (salary) cap hasn’t gone up a lot the last few years and it just seems as it inches along with the salaries of the topend guys going up, guys who seem to be paying the price are the middle guys.”
While most players on tryouts are trying to extend their career, 37-year-old Ryan Malone is using one to attempt a comeback.
Malone last suited up in the NHL in 2014-15 with the Rangers, but is attending Minnesota training camp.
Meantime, several high profile free agents, including Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr, Brian Gionta, Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman, aren’t going to camp on tryouts.
Defenceman James Wisniewski, who spent 2016-17 with Chicago of the American Hockey League, is hoping to generate some buzz on social media.
“Still looking for a job or an opportunity, anyone want a former 50 PT right handed d man lol #nhl #olympics,” he tweeted on Sept. 5, before following up two days later with: “Might have something last chance people.”