When the NHL starts running out of cap space as it is now, many unsigned unrestricted free agents have to resort to a different tactic than a normal negotiation. Instead of pursuing opportunities overseas or in the minor leagues, these veterans sign professional tryouts to try and make an impact in training camp. Already we’ve seen a few of these, with the Toronto Maple Leafs signing Michal Neuvirth and Matt Read while the Philadelphia Flyers took a chance on Chris Stewart. For the last few weeks there have been reports linking the Boston Bruins and Alexander Petrovic in a similar capacity, something that Alex Thomas of Boston Hockey Now has heard again today.
To be clear, actually getting an NHL contract out of a professional tryout is rare. Most of the players brought into camps are there to fill veteran quotas in road preseason games and are cut before the start of the regular season. But every once in a while, someone impresses enough to land a spot on the roster. Here are several examples from last season:
Alex Chiasson, Edmonton Oilers – 73 GP, 22 goals, 38 points
The poster boy for the PTO last season was Chiasson, who not only made the Oilers out of camp but experienced the best offensive season of his career. In fact, Chiasson was the fourth-highest scoring forward on Edmonton and set himself to not have to deal with another tryout for a while. The Oilers re-signed the 28-year old forward to a two-year, $4.3MM deal last month to keep him in the fold.
Jason Garrison, Edmonton Oilers – 17 GP, 1 goal, 1 point
Things didn’t go quite so smoothly for the other Oilers PTO that earned a contract. Garrison outplayed Jakub Jerabek in camp and earned a deal, but ended up on the move just a few months later. After 17 games with Edmonton, Garrison was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of the Drake Caggiula–Brandon Manning deal where his contract was promptly terminated. Garrison ended up playing the rest of the year in Sweden, where he helped Djurgardens to the SHL Final.
Drew Stafford, New Jersey Devils – 57 GP, 5 goals, 13 points
Stafford came back to the Devils on a PTO after playing 59 games for them in 2017-18, and earned a spot after Jesper Bratt suffered a broken jaw in the preseason. The veteran forward would end up playing in a good chunk of the season but was still unable to contribute much offensively. Still, extending your career by another full NHL season and earning a cool $810K isn’t a bad outcome.
Stephen Gionta, New York Islanders – 5 GP, 0 goals, 0 points
Gionta didn’t actually get a contract at the end of camp, but decided to stick around and see if something happened in the first few weeks of the season. That decision paid off as Casey Cizikas suffered an injury leading to a two-way deal for Gionta in mid-October. A few days later he was clearing waivers and going down to join the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the third consecutive season where he spent the majority of the year. Gionta has recently taken a scouting position with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Luca Sbisa, New York Islanders – 9 GP, 0 goals, 1 point
When Sbisa earned a $1.5MM deal in Islanders training camp it looked like he had fully recovered from the injury that had limited him to just 30 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 and was ready to be a key contributor once again. Instead he served as a press box regular and ended up actually playing in just a handful of games all season. Sbisa is still unsigned this summer and may have to use the tryout method again if he wants to continue his NHL career. At just 29, it is unfortunate just how quickly things have fallen apart for the 2008 first round pick.
Michal Cajkovsky, Carolina Hurricanes – 0 GP, 0 goals, 0 points
The KHL veteran ended up earning a contract in camp with the Hurricanes, but given he was still waiver-exempt he ended up in the minors before the season began. After 23 games with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, Cajkovsky decided it was time to leave North America once again and saw his contract mutually terminated. He ended up back in the KHL for the rest of the year.
Brandon Davidson, Chicago Blackhawks – 10 GP, 0 goals, 1 point
For the second consecutive season the Blackhawks decided to sign a veteran defenseman at the end of camp. Following Cody Franson in 2017, Davidson inked a $650K deal with the Blackhawks and was on the roster at the start of the season. He’d end up injured and scratched most of the time before clearing waivers and ending up back in the minor leagues. Amazingly, Davidson didn’t have to wait around this time and has already signed with the Calgary Flames for 2019-20.
Lee Stempniak, Boston Bruins – 2 GP, 0 goals, 0 points
Stempniak actually stuck around with the Bruins and their AHL affiliate for most of the season without a contract, only officially signing on February 24th. He was used a lot more by the Providence Bruins instead of Boston, but did get into a pair of NHL games to keep his career alive.