When Alex Chiasson found himself without a job halfway through the offseason, frustration began to set in.
Even at age 26 with 106 points to his name in 320 NHL games, Chiasson wasn’t tendered a contract by the Calgary Flames, and by late July his options were limited. In early September, he agreed to attend Washington Capitals training camp on a professional tryout agreement.
“Every day is a tryout for me,” Chiasson said. “Every day I’ve just got to prove that I belong and that I can earn a spot on the team.”
Chiasson is not alone. Almost 60 players are on similar PTOs around the league, though it’s not all unproven commodities and grizzled veterans trying to show they still have something left in the tank. Chiasson one of 11 tryout guys 30 or younger with at least 100 games of NHL experience — an unusual result of teams paying stars more and relying on entry-level players.
The result is squeezing hockey’s middle class.
“There’s extra bodies around,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said, citing Vegas expansion as a positive. “There’s good players that are still out there. … That’s just the way the market is for this year.”
Experienced 20- and early 30-something players settling for PTOs is a trend in the NHL after 16 such players did it last year and 15 in 2015.
Chiasson and defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka are chasing contracts with Washington, Jimmy Hayes with the New Jersey Devils, Brandon Pirri with the Florida Panthers and Cody Franson with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Given that the salary cap has only gone up from $71.4 million in 2015-16 to $73 million last season and now $75 million, general managers don’t have a lot of breathing room. Consider a team like Chicago has over $45 million committed to its top six players and there wasn’t space available to offer Franson a guaranteed contract despite the 30-year-old defenseman having 205 points in 527 games.