As training camps open across the NHL today, teams are releasing their roster of players who will be participating in all the fun preseason brings. Along with the stalwarts, regulars and recent draft picks attending, fans may have noticed a few teams who have players with the acronym, "PTO" listed next to their name. For those of you who may not know, "PTO" stands for Professional Tryout; players who are undrafted/unrestricted free agents and have no contract offers are often resigned to signing a PTO contract. They are invited to training camp and can play every preseason game in the hopes of proving their worth before the team makes a decision to either offer said player an NHL/AHL contract or cut him loose. Teams also have the option to send a player on a PTO down to their minor league affiliate for up to 25 games at which time a decision to sign him to a Standard Player Contract (SPC) or to outright release him needs to be made.
As of today, 74 players are signed to PTO contracts heading into camp. These contracts were usually reserved for past-their-prime players who were looking for one last kick at the can, but going through the list, there are a few names that may surprise you. Curtis Glencross, Michal Rozsival, Andrej Meszaros and Tomas Fleischmann are just a few of the players on PTO's who, as recently as two seasons ago, would be signed to a Standard Player Contract in a heartbeat. Each of the above mentioned players were highly regarded and effective players on their respective teams and were coveted pieces come trade deadline. So, why the rise in PTO contracts? The problem is two-fold. For starters, the salary cap is a huge influence on GM's when it comes to player contracts. Not only do some GM's have to worry about not going over the cap, some have to worry about being under the cap; which brings us to the second problem.
The state of the NHL today sees many players over-value themselves and what they are worth. Experts will point to the "market" being a major factor in this, I point to certain abundantly wealthy owners (ahem, MLSE) signing third and fourth line players (ahem, David Clarkson) to ludicrous contracts. Teams are shying away from signing players who average 35-40 points a season to long-term, big money deals and opting to go with prospects and youth, who are cheaper and more controllable. Those average players and their agents then decide to play a game of chicken with NHL GM's which they inevitable lose, as was the case with Cody Franson who signed a two-year, $6.6 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Sept. 10th; far less term and dollar value than he was seeking. Conversely, teams such as Phoenix and Florida who are desperate to get to the cap floor will invite formally productive players such as Martin Havlat and David Booth to camp in hopes that they show enough talent to be signed to one-year, league minimum contracts. Signing three players for $550,000 each makes a lot more sense for a cash-strapped team than signing one player for $2 million.
This is the new NHL where the salary cap rules the day and teams are far too skittish to albatross themselves with high-priced, mediocre talent and are willing to roll the dice, sift through their options in hopes they land a bargain who can help their club.