04 Apr 2016; Los Angeles Kings forward Kris Versteeg (10) against the Vancouver Canucks during a game at Rogers Arena in Vancouver BC. (Photograph by Bob Frid/Icon Sportswire)
One Timers

PTO contracts proving an excellent way to find value in NHL

Bob Frid/Icon Sportswire

How much is Kris Versteeg worth as an NHL hockey player?

The 30 year-old right winger has been a productive contributor throughout his 550 game career. He’s twice eclipsed the 50-point mark, and has two Stanley Cup victories on his resume (in 2010 and 2015, both with the Chicago Blackhawks).

Most recently, he’s coming off of a respectable 77-game, 38-point season split between the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings. It was the final year of a four-year, $17.6 million deal that he initially signed back in the summer of 2012.

While Versteeg is likely no longer worth the same $4.4 million that he earned last season, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2.5 million per year seems reasonable, based on the contracts of comparable players like Jannik Hansen and Blake Comeau.

However, if the Edmonton Oilers play their cards right, they might be able to sign Versteeg to a contract worth half of that.

Versteeg has been with the Oilers throughout training camp and thus far into the preseason since he signed a professional tryout agreement, commonly referred to as a PTO, with the club back on Sept. 9. After going unsigned through the start of this summer’s free agency period (and a deal in Switzerland that fell through), Versteeg took the PTO with the hopes of showcasing his abilities to the team’s brass so that he might earn a full contract.

With few other options seemingly available, he might be left taking whatever offers the Oilers are willing to provide if he hopes to return to the NHL this season.

PTOs have become commonplace in the NHL, and the reason why is clear: in a salary cap league where every dollar counts, the opportunity to get a good player for a bargain price is worth looking into.

16 FEB 2016: New Jersey Devils right wing Lee Stempniak (20) has the puck hit both posts behind Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) and not go into the net during the first period of the game between the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers played at the Prudential Center in Newark,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

16 FEB 2016: New Jersey Devils right wing Lee Stempniak (20) has the puck hit both posts behind Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) and not go into the net. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The best example of this is Lee Stempniak last year. After going unsigned throughout all of last summer Stempniak eventually found himself on a PTO with the New Jersey Devils. He impressed the Devils management in training camp and earned himself a one-year, $850,000 deal for his efforts.

It was during the season, though, when Stempniak really took off. He scored 41 points in 63 games for New Jersey before being moved to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline, where he picked up another 10 points in 19 games.

51 points for a cap hit of just $850,000? That kind of value is hard to beat.

While getting that level of production from a player coming off of a PTO is certainly the exception and not the rule (the majority of players on PTOs don’t even receive contract offers from their teams afterwards), other organizations have also been able to at least fill out their rosters with useful players earning less than they probably should have.

The Montreal Canadiens signed forward Tomas Fleischmann for one year and $750,000 following a successful PTO last fall. After putting up 20 points in 57 games (8th among all Habs forwards on the season) they moved him to the Blackhawks at the deadline along with Dale Weise in exchange for young center Phillip Danault and a second round draft pick, further increasing the value that they received out of the deal.

Fleischmann received another PTO this fall, with the Minnesota Wild, but was not invited to the team’s training camp after failing his physical, likely due to health issues that have built up over the past few seasons.

The Bruins signed goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a PTO at the same time as the Habs added Fleischmann, and were thankful that they did. Neither of two prospect goalies in Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre were able to seize the club’s backup netminder position out of camp, so they instead signed Gustavsson for one year and $700,00, for which he thanked them with an 11-9 record and a 0.908 save percentage.

Versteeg is the most notable of players signed to a PTO right now, but there are others worth mentioning. Christian Ehrhoff recently joined the Bruins after a good showing at the World Cup of Hockey, where he helped Team Europe on their Cinderella run to the tournament final with a defense-leading three points in six games. Boston’s blueline needs more support when it comes to moving the puck, so Ehrhoff could be a fit.

Twenty-eight-year-old physical defender Eric Gryba is trying out with the Oilers, the same team that he played for last season, and could offer nice value for a team that desperately needs a playoff berth as soon as possible but is running low on cap space. Devin Setoguchi (Los Angeles) and Jack Skille (Vancouver) are some of the other names out there that are still tightly in the mix for roster spots.

It’s a bad break for experienced players like Versteeg, who are still able to contribute yet are being squeezed out by salary cap limitations around the league, but PTOs can be a necessary source of value for teams that are willing to take a careful look and invest in the effort.

PTO contracts proving an excellent way to find value in NHL

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