Raffi Torres (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
In an age where contracts must be agonized over, veterans are finding themselves in limbo more than ever before. This year's crop includes Raffi Torres, Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, but don't be surprised to see more join their company.
Carolina fans were a little puzzled this morning when it was announced that physical left winger Raffi Torres was being brought to training camp on a professional tryout. The Hurricanes, after all, are an organization filled with young talent run by a progressive GM in Ron Francis, who also received a contract extension through 2018-19 today. Torres has spent most of the past few seasons either injured or suspended for injuring others.
But this is all part of the new reality, people.
Contracts are not given out lightly these days – teams can only have 50 at a time and if you sign a bad one, it can hamper your on-ice product significantly, while also tying up any trades that could remedy the situation (thoughts and prayers, Dan Girardi).
And with more young players ready to make the leap earlier now, there is a crush of talent at the NHL level, with only so many roster spots available. That means players such as Torres need to hustle this fall, with no guarantee they’ll get a deal in the end. Chris Higgins just nabbed a tryout from Calgary and Maxim Lapierre will give his best with the Rangers, but don’t be surprised if we see more such players as the season gets closer.
“It’s happened the past two or three years,” said St. Louis left winger Scottie Upshall. “Teams are waiting on picking their bottom six forwards, knowing there will be some good, talented guys with games under their belt that don’t have jobs.”
Upshall was in that position last summer. After four years in Florida with one playoff appearance to show for it, the veteran’s services were not in high demand, but he knew he still had the wheels and work ethic to get an NHL job. He just needed a chance.
“You’ve gotta prove yourself again,” he said. “It’s almost like that first training camp after you get drafted.”
The Blues gave him a shot, with coach Ken Hitchcock telling Upshall that he wanted the left winger to push other players for jobs. Scott Gomez was also brought in on a tryout and both players earned contracts. On top of playing well in camp, the pair made sure to be “good teammates,” as Upshall put it. That meant, among other things, looking out for younger players such as Robby Fabbri, Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko, answering any questions they might have about the pro lifestyle.
Not only did Upshall help St. Louis to the Blues’ best playoff showing since 2001, but he also earned himself a shiny new one-year deal in the process. That’s the motivation for this year’s cohort – these tryouts can pay off.
Torres seems like an odd fit in Carolina, where the Hurricanes appear to be a skillful young team on the rise. But he could be a cheap, physical presence on the ice, assuming he doesn’t go overboard (big “if” I know!).
Or, he could just be a stalking horse. Same goes for HIggins and Lapierre. New York in particular is already overloaded with skilled forwards and Tanner Glass can bring the sandpaper if need be. But a little competition never hurt anybody and the current landscape favors management. Here are some other prominent veterans who may have to grab PTOs for 2016-17:
Tuomo Ruuttu, LW
David Jones, RW
R.J. Umberger, C
Kyle Quincey, D
Nicklas Grossmann, D
Paul Gaustad, C
Brad Stuart, D
Nikita Nikitin, D
Dennis Seidenberg, D
Alex Tanguay, LW