The NHL's salary cap has made it harder for fringe veterans on training camp PTO deals to earn a contract.
Brad Boyes was the lucky one.
Of the four NHL veterans who were thrown a career lifeline—a professional tryout agreement—by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 33-year-old former Panther was the only one to show enough in training camp to earn a contract for the 2015-16 season.
Boyes signed a one year, $700,000 deal on Monday with the Leafs, the team that originally selected him with the 24th pick in the 2000 draft.
“He’s smart, he’s got great hands, he knows how to play,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock told The Toronto Star.
The others who came to camp, wingers Devin Setoguchi, Curtis Glencross and defenseman Mark Fraser, were thanked for their time and sent on their way.
It might seem surprising that a team as desperate for proven NHL talent as the Leafs would reject these players so quickly. But as one scout told SI.com on Monday, it’s not necessarily a reflection of their ability. PTOs are basically a lottery ticket for players who are looking for one more chance. And the odds of cashing them in are pretty long.
“It’s not that they can’t play,” he said. “They’ve still got something in the tank and maybe in the right situation they could be productive. But most of them are victims of the [salary cap] system. These guys are mostly being looked to fill [bottom-six] roles. Most teams have young guys they’ve invested [draft picks on] and they want to give them a chance to step up and earn those jobs. They’re cheaper ... they have something to prove. And management wants to prove they werent dummies for taking the guys in the first place.
“The [veterans] have something to prove too, but you know what you’re getting with them. And if the kids fail, those guys are still out there as a Plan B.”
Or even Plan C. Glencross managed to wrangle another PTO on Monday, this time with the Avalanche. Colorado was left scrambling for options after a player they’d brought in earlier on a PTO, Jack Skille, was injured in camp. And Fraser actually managed to sign a one-year deal with the Senators, who had a hole open up when young defenseman Mikael Wikstrand bolted unexpectedly from training camp and returned home to Sweden. Earlier, former Devil Steve Bernier landed a contract with the Islanders.
There are a few PTO players who could yet join the ranks of the lucky ones. In Montreal, Tomas Fleischmann (photo above) has settled in nicely alongside David Desharnais on the third line and is a near-lock to earn a contract from the Habs. In Boston, Jonas Gustavsson appears to have a slight edge on minor leaguer Jeremy Smith in the battle to back up Tuukka Rask. Peter Budaj is on target to beat out Jhonas Enroth to win the No. 2 job in Los Angeles. Tyler Kennedy and Lee Stempniak are among the final 27 players left in camp with the Devils.
And there are others who are barely hanging on. Sergei Gonchar remains in the mix to bring some experience to a young Pittsburgh blueline. David Booth and Martin Havlat are battling for one spot in Florida. Scott Gomez and Scottie Upshall are options for the Blues. Andrej Meszaros has a shot with the Avs.
But the dream has died hard for several respected veterans. Daniel Paille, Lubomir Visnovsky and Tomas Kopecky failed to make an impression with the Blackhawks and were cut loose on Monday. Keith Aulie was sent packing by Arizona. Jan Hejda was dropped by the Avalanche. Ray Emery washed out in Tampa. The Rangers passed on James Sheppard.
There's no telling what happens next for these players. Europe. A minor-league deal. Retirement. It’s a lousy situation, but at least they had their chance to prove themselves one last time.
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