After modest cap increase, some NHL vets turn to pro tryouts
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The locker stall belonging to Curtis Glencross was completely cleared out except for two Colorado Avalanche travel bags hanging on hooks.
Two bags Glencross no longer needs.
Released by Colorado on Monday – and by Toronto last month – the 32-year-old is searching for work again. These are the perils of being on a professional tryout, where nothing is guaranteed, least of all a roster spot.
It’s an awkward position to be in for a player like Glencross, with 507 NHL games and 134 goals. But he’s far from alone.
With the salary cap increasing only a modest amount this season and big money going to the bigger names, there are quite a few middle-tier players trying to latch on through professional tryouts.
”Makes you realize how fortunate you are to have one of the jobs,” said Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla, who was teammates with Glencross when both were in Calgary. ”It’s a tough business, as you get older. Things can change quickly.
”And they can change positively for him, too. If a team wants and needs a gritty guy with offensive touch, Glencross can be that guy.”
When free agency began over the summer, Glencross thought for sure he’d be on a roster and competing for playing time, not a roster spot.
”Didn’t turn out that way,” Glencross recently said.
Look around the league and you’ll see plenty of players in the same boat.
With the season about to start and rosters being trimmed, some were recently released from their tryouts, such as defenseman Sergei Gonchar in Pittsburgh, goalie Ray Emery in Tampa Bay, forward Devin Setoguchi in Toronto and defenseman Jan Hejda in Chicago.
This less-than-desirable route worked out well for forward Tomas Fleischmann, who just agreed to a one-year contract with Montreal.
Steve Bernier, too. He was with the New York Islanders on a professional tryout basis Sept. 9 and signed a one-year deal eight days later.
”I felt confident that something positive would come,” said Bernier, who had 16 goals with the New Jersey Devils last season. ”You tell yourself you’re not the only one, and there are worse things in life.”
A gamble on himself – that’s the way Avalanche forward Jack Skille viewed his professional tryout situation, especially in the current landscape of this salary cap era.
He’s not an economist, just an NHL realist. Work is a little scarce for players like him – a 28-year-old seasoned forward who makes a decent wage.
The upper limit of the cap only increased $2.4 million for 2015-16 to $71.4 million. That’s a smaller amount than the previous year when it went up $4.7 million to $69 million.
Not only that, but more young players are showing up NHL-ready and don’t need as much time in the minors.
”It’s an unfortunate situation to have to come in without a contract,” Skille said. ”But the bright side is it’s another chance to prove myself and earn something I actually want.”
He did, too.
On Tuesday, Skille was rewarded with a one-year deal and will be in an Avalanche sweater for the season opener Thursday night against Minnesota. Skille now has some good news to report back to friends and family, who have been constantly texting him, asking him if he’s heard anything.
”It does take a toll mentally on you and your family at home,” Skille said. ”They’re trying to give you good thoughts and hope that things pan out for you. They know how hard I’ve worked.”
When Skille’s agent first suggested the notion of joining a team on a professional tryout, he balked at the idea.
Now, he realizes it’s the best of both worlds – he went to a team he believes he can help. Skille picked his spot, without money dictating his destination.
”I like to call it betting on yourself,” said Skille, a seventh overall pick by Chicago in 2005. ”Instead of settling for something you don’t necessarily want, being tied down to something you don’t want, it’s an opportunity to come in here and earn something you do want.”
AP freelance writer Denis Gorman in New York contributed.