Every year, the NHL season kicks off with training camps, where hundreds of players report for the first time and management can run their tests, see who’s in shape and in what kind of condition, what players have developed over the off-season, and rosters start to come together. At camp, some players are just there to get into game shape and get ready for the upcoming season since they don’t have to worry about losing their place on the team. That’s probably the case for a lot of players.
On every team though, there are usually a few spots up for grabs, whether it’s on the bottom defensive pairing, or on third or fourth line, there are usually a dozen players fighting for the chance to make the NHL team. On every team, there are young prospects trying to make the team or players who have been on the verge of making the team, but have toiled in the minors, trying to prove it’s their time to be in the big leagues.
The problem for those guys though, is they’re not only competing against one another, but against players who have been signed to Professional Tryouts (PTOs) by NHL teams. Players on PTOs are usually NHL veterans who failed to sign as free agents during the offseason and who now have to win a roster spot in training camp.
There seems to be a rise in PTOs recently; it’s as though GMs have figured out, in a salary cap world, giving contracts to players who might not be any better than players already in their system is a terrible idea. Especially when some of these guys should move one with their careers and just retire.
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17 Mark Fraser
Fraser isn’t that old… he’s only 28 so he’s technically still in his prime. Unfortunately for Fraser, even in his prime, he’s not an NHL defenseman. There are better players than him in pretty much every system in the league. He’s played in 219 NHL games with the New Jersey Devils, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers, all teams who could use help on the back end, and he hasn’t been able to become a regular. This pre-season, he’s on a PTO with Toronto again, and he’s no better than their 7-8 best defensemen, so what’s the point?
16 Patrick Dwyer
Dwyer has spent his entire career with the Carolina Hurricanes up until this point. The Hurricanes have been bad recently, and Dwyer wasn’t able to do much other than be on the ice for a while every game. He’s played in 416 games and scored 93 points. So he’s replaceable. Now he’s 32 and trying out with the Arizona Coyotes. There might be an open spot on the bottom lines in Arizona, but that roster spot should go to a player who has some potential to contribute beyond Dwyer’s means. Of course, the Coyotes are going to be in the running for the lottery pick this season, so they’re in no hurry to develop any of their young players.
15 Patrick Kaleta
Kaleta is on a PTO with the Buffalo Sabres, which makes sense, because they might be the only team in the league who’s willing to put him on the ice. Kaleta is another guy who just isn’t good at hockey things. He brings one thing to the game and it’s being a dangerous person who’s likely to injure actual players. The Sabres aren’t going to be very good once again this year, so maybe he has a chance of making the team, but again, what’s the point? They might as well dress someone who at least is trying to be hockey player.
14 Jonas Gustavsson
Gustavsson has spent his entire career as a backup goalie with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. He’s started in 132 games over the course of his career and he’s only won 60 games and his career save percentage is 0.901% That’s bad. His PTO is with the Boston Bruins. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have a young goalie like Malcolm Subban sitting on the bench watching Tukka Rask play most nights, there are better options out there than Gustavsson. Gustavsson is only 30, so he might have a few years of hockey left in him, but there are certainly better goalies that could be acquired than him.
13 Aaron Johnson
Johnson is 32 and hasn’t played in the NHL since 2012-13 when he played in 10 games for the Boston Bruins. Since then, he’s had two respectable seasons in the AHL. In other words, he’s a decent AHL defenseman. The only time he’s spent more than one season with a team was with the Columbus Blue Jackets when he first came into the league, and has bounced around with 5 other teams since. He’s averaged 48 games played per team before he’s replaced. His PTO is with the Calgary Flames, who are pretty set at the position. His best chance is being the 7-8th defenseman, but that place should go to young player who might develop into a regular.
12 Matt Carkner
Carkner is 34 years old and spent part of last season in the AHL; he only played in 19 games. He last played in the NHL with the New Islanders in 2013-14, when he played in 53 games and amassed 149 penalty minutes. He’s only ever played one full NHL season. In 237 career games played, he’s scored 27 points and spent 556 minutes in the penalty box.
His PTO was with the Islanders (he was already cut), and they already have 7 defensemen under contract for this season with a couple young guys that can be called up if needed. The Islanders should have known what Carkner brings, since they’ve seen him play first-hand for years. Time to think of a new career.
10 Peter Budaj
Budaj has been a career backup, and he’s been a pretty good one. He’s started in 183 games and won 124 splitting his time between the Colorado Avalanche and the Montreal Canadiens. His career save percentage is 0.903, which isn’t very good. He’s trying out for the Los Angeles Kings this year, who replaced Martin Jones with Jhonas Enroth as Jonathan Quick’s backup. Budaj is 33 years old now; his time in the NHL is pretty much over, barring any injuries. There are young goalies that are more skilled, or at worst, have the same skill level as Budaj.
9 Sheldon Brookbank
Brookbank spent last season playing in the KHL; he last played in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013-14, when he appeared in 48 games and scored 7 points. His PTO is with the Anaheim Ducks, a team he spent 4 years playing for between 2008-12, and while they might have a spot open on defense, it probably shouldn’t go to a 34 year old whose best year was the only season he played in over 70 games and he managed to score 14 points. Brookbank needs to start thinking about his life beyond hockey, because it’s fast approaching.
8 Martin Havlat
Havlat hasn’t played in a full NHL season since 2010-11, in fact, he’s only managed to play half a season once since then. Havlat probably still has the skills to play in the NHL. Last season he scored 14 points for the New Jersey Devils in only 40 games, which isn’t bad. It’s just a question of whether or not his body can hold up. His PTO is with the Florida Panthers, and they might have room for a 3rd or 4th line winger, there are players with more upside than Havlat.
6 Jan Hejda
Hejda spent the last four years playing for the Colorado Avalanche and was able to log over 20 minutes of ice time per night while appearing in 81 games. Now he’s 37, and trying out with the Chicago Blackhawks. One thing we know about the Blackhawks is that Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and whoever plays on their second pairing will eat up the majority of the minutes on the backend. At his age, Hejda isn’t going to do much other than sitting in the press box or on the bench if he makes the team.
5 Vitaly Vishnevsky
Vishnevksy has been out of the NHL since the 2007-08 season; playing in the KHL ever since. When we last saw him, he played in 69 games for the New Jersey Devils and scored 7 points. The Devils then waived him with two years remaining on his contract. At 35, Vishnevksy has a PTO with the Anaheim Ducks where he’ll battle for a spot that should go to someone who might be able to contribute in a meaningful way. If he wasn’t wanted by an NHL team when he was 30, I’m not so sure why he’s wanted now.
4 Eric Boulton
Boulton is 39 years old and has scored more than 10 points in a season only twice over the course of his career. Granted, he’s not known for his scoring touch… he has 1419 penalty minutes in 648 NHL games. Last season, Boulton appeared in 10 games with the New York Islanders, averaging just over 7 minutes of ice time per game. This year, he’s trying out for the Islanders again, where he’ll come to camp and probably fight a bunch of guys half his age in an attempt to keep his ‘hockey’ career alive.
3 Douglas Murray
Murray was a slow-moving defensive-defenseman during him prime, and at the age of 35, I can’t begin to imagine how much slower he could get. He hasn’t played anywhere near a full season since 2011-12 with the San Jose Sharks, when he appeared in 60 games. We’ve already covered that the Flames are pretty set at defense, and if any playing time does arise due to injuries, they have players in their system who could step up and play. In any case, the Calgary Flames gave Murray the chance to try out for the team (he was cut). He should file his retirement papers.
2 Scott Gomez
Another season, another team for Scott Gomez. Not since 2010-11 and 2011-12 has Gomez played with the same team for two years in a row, and that was with the Montreal Canadiens, which ended so badly. Gomez rebounded a bit last year in his second stint with the New Jersey Devils, scoring 34 points in just 58 games. At 35, Gomez has a PTO with the St. Louis Blues, and they are pretty set at every position up front. They have 13 forwards under contract already and some young players in the AHL who could easily step in if needed.
1 Sergei Gonchar
Gonchar spent last season splitting time between the Dallas Stars (only 3 games) and the Montreal Canadiens, scoring 14 points. The last time he played for the Penguins was in 2009-10 when he scored 50 points at the age of 35. The former all-star has had a great career, playing in over 1300 games, and he’s just shy of hitting the 1000 point milestone, needing 19 to get there. At 41, those days are long behind him though. The Pens already have a pretty set top-5 on the back-end, leaving maybe one open spot and Gonchar should be viewed as a long shot to claim it.
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