They're starting to get the idea now.
That call they've been waiting for? The one offering them another shot at the NHL? It might never come.
That grim reality is settling in for the scores of free agents who are left without contracts with the start of training camp just around the corner. But while many of them are likely facing the end of their NHL dreams, there are still a few who might yet have something to offer a team.
While some, like legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, might still garner a contract, a professional tryout might be the only option remaining for most. A PTO is a lottery ticket. A team spends a few bucks to bring a guy in and hopes that he performs well enough to provide some them with some options. Best case: He wins a job outright and signs a low-dough, one-year contract. Worst case: He helps fill out the veteran roster requirement in a couple of preseason games before getting a ticket home.
From a player's perspective it's not much, but it's better to be in camp, any camp, than to be sitting at home. And even if it doesn't work out with Team A, you might show enough to hook on with Team B.
It's a long shot for everyone involved, but there are happy endings. Mason Raymond came to the Maple Leafs on a PTO last fall, won a job in camp, scored 19 goals and turned that into a three-year, $9.5 million deal with the Flames. There may not be another Raymond in this year's group, but there are a few players who might have one good squeeze left in them before they're hung out to dry.
Ray Whitney: Here's a guy who scored 77 points as a 39-year-old. Gotta be something left in the tank at 42, right? Well ... maybe not. Despite putting up 32 points, the Wizard didn't have much up his sleeve last season with Dallas. Lindy Ruff quickly lost faith, limiting him to fourth line duty and some spot work on a power play that desperately needed the spark that Whitney never could provide. Still, a team might look at his 7.3 shooting percentage—by far the lowest of his career—and conclude he could bounce back. Phoenix might take a chance now that its 20th ranked offense has lost Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata and it makes sense to acquire some insurance in case kids like Max Domi aren't quite ready. Whitney, who lives in the area, seems resigned to playing in Phoenix or hanging 'em up.
Radek Dvorak: His 18-season career includes just one 20-goal campaign—a 31-tally aberration back in 2000-01—but Dvorak has extended his shelf life thanks to his reputation for solid defensive play (even if that rep isn't borne out by his possession numbers in six of his past seven seasons). Those underlying numbers may be why he's bounced his way through five organizations since 2010, and why he's looking for another chance after getting into 60 games with Carolina last season. He might be able to provide fourth-line minutes geared toward defensive zone starts for a club with prospects that aren't ideally suited for a depth role, but that's about all he can bring at this point.
Tim Thomas: If he was hoping to use the World Championship to show that he could still play at an elite level after being relegated to the bench in Dallas, Thomas failed miserably in Belarus. The 40-year-old struggled between the pipes for Team USA, posting a 3.38 GAA and .868 save percentage in seven games as the Americans were knocked off in the quarter-finals. Did that mark the end of the line for the 2011 Vezina Trophy winner? Probably. As one scout suggested, Thomas could still have success in the NHL ... but only if he plays behind Claude Julien's defense again. That's not going to happen, but his name still has some value. An injury in camp or early in the season might earn Thomas a desperation call.
Saku Koivu: The 39-year-old is keeping the door wide open for a shot at a 20th season, telling the Finnish press that he's not interested in playing in Europe and if he continues his career it'll be in the NHL. There's not a lot left in his tank, but he can still kill penalties (he was on the second unit last season in Anaheim) and fill spot duty on the power play. Add in some leadership skills—he was the captain in Montreal for nine seasons, the second longest such tenure in team history behind Jean Beliveau's—and he could provide some value.There's been a bit of buzz surrounding the Blue Jackets, a team that might need Koivu's help if it can't come to terms with hardline RFA Ryan Johansen, but others are also sniffing around.
Joe Corvo: It's not that he's a bad hockey player. It's that he plays the game as if he has no interest in the end result. That lack of passion killed his last NHL shot in Ottawa and probably would have ended his career if not for some solid play with Chicago of the AHL late last season. Combine that resurgence with a league-wide hunger for mobile, puck-moving defensemen who can help on the power play and it's not entirely beyond the realm of possibility that some desperate club will give Corvo another chance is it?
Paul Bissonnette: The Coyotes dressed BizNasty just 39 times last season, and in not one of those games did they entrust him with as much as 10 minutes of ice time. Clearly, his value is limited. If he's not used as a deterrent to another club's superheavyweight, he's not bringing a lot to the table. His name's been attached for weeks now to the Capitals, but it's hard to imagine why. Might be time to move on to the broadcast studio job for which he will be ideally suited.
Andrei Loktionov: A shoulder injury suffered at the World Championship might be all that's depriving this 24-year-old forward of another chance in the NHL. Or it may be that teams haven't quite figured out where to fit him into their lineups. He has solid underlying numbers and is a terrific puck distributor, but his defensive commitment requires a bit of work. A team that's looking for some low-rent scoring could do a lot worse than this former Memorial Cup winner.
Dustin Penner: Despite rumors linking him to the Habs, Flyers and Penguins, among others, the four-time 20-goal scorer and two-time Stanley Cup winner is still looking for a gig. Sure, the 31-year-old has faced questions about his conditioning and shift-to-shift commitment, but his size (6' 4", 242 pounds) and hands should make him an intriguing fall-back option for a club that's looking to fill a hole on the wing.
Jamie McBain: Since joining the NHL after a standout run with the Wisconsin Badgers, McBain has always been one of those guys who leaves you wanting more. The tools are there—he produced 30 points in 76 games with Carolina four seasons ago—but there are questions about his ability to read and react at an NHL pace. Still, he can skate and he has 300-plus games of experience on the backline. He could fit the bill as an affordable 6 or 7 option.
Michal Handzus: He's old, he's slow and he was consistently lousy last season with Chicago. Still, he was horribly miscast as a second/third-line center, so there is a chance, if he's placed in a depth role, he may be able to provide some value with his size and experience.