As time winds down before the start of training camp, several notable veteran free agents are still searching for work. But will their next destination be the NHL, overseas or on the links?
It was on Sunday that Scottie Upshall got his next chance to prove he can hang around in the NHL.
After playing his way into two contracts with the St. Louis Blues over the past three seasons, Upshall, 34, signed a professional tryout deal with the Edmonton Oilers over the weekend. His tryout agreement with the Oilers doesn’t come as much of a surprise, of course. There has long been this kind of depth interest in Upshall. In fact, even prior to his PTO-turned-one-year pact with St. Louis last season, he had agreed to a PTO with the Vancouver Canucks, which is to say that Upshall is all-too-familiar with the way these things go. He’s made it work every single time, though. His first go-around with St. Louis, he turned a PTO into a six-goal, 14-point season with the Blues and a contract extension. His seven-goal, 19-point output last season is what led to his deal with Edmonton this time around, too.
But as Upshall eyes a future on the Oilers’ fourth line, where he’ll look to catch on and Edmonton hopes he can chip in offensively, there are more than a dozen notable veterans who are using the remaining weeks of the summer to test the waters when it comes to their own futures. Here are 10 free agents aged 30-or-older who are still looking for work and a quick glimpse into what could be next:
KARI LEHTONEN, G
The landing spots for backup netminders are drying up fast. The Rangers could have been a potential fit for Lehtonen, but New York signed Dustin Tokarski in a move that further crowded make an already congested depth chart. The Flames might have room, but seem content to go with the Jon Gillies or David Rittich behind starter Mike Smith. And beyond that, there aren’t many clear-cut suitors for a 34-year-old goaltender. Lehtonen could hang on and try to latch onto a spot in the NHL by way of a PTO, but if we had to venture a guess, he seems bound for the KHL or Finnish League.
KRIS VERSTEEG, LW
Nothing is official until the contract is signed and the ink is dry, but the safe bet says Versteeg, 32, is going to be skating in the KHL this season. He’s attempted to take his game overseas before — he signed in the Swiss League and then had his contract voided back in 2016 — but this time there appears to be interest from arguably the best non-North American circuit. Oddly enough, Versteeg was probably one of the players more likely to earn a roster spot if he signed a PTO this summer. Though he’s had to battle injuries, Versteeg had 18 goals and 45 points in 93 games over the past two seasons with the Calgary Flames.
STEVE MASON, G
The youngest player on this list, Mason, 30, remains out of work despite being one season removed from inking a two-year deal worth north of $4 million per season. He was traded less than a year after signing that contract with the Winnipeg Jets, though, and subsequently bought out by the Montreal Canadiens. That said, Mason should get a shot somewhere on a PTO, at the very least, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising were he to be a late-summer signing by a team looking to add an option in the crease. Mason is a more than capable backup with starter potential, and it’d be shocking were he out of work in the NHL this season.
TROY BROUWER, RW
It’s almost as if Brouwer’s contract has hurt him more than his actual play. Bought out by the Calgary Flames this summer with two years remaining on a four-year, $18-million deal, Brouwer, 33, remains out of work despite being a serviceable fourth-line option with some offensive upside. He doesn’t skate all that well, sure, but if he’s given the shot to come in on a PTO that leads to a league-minimum deal, he could contribute. If he goes through the summer unsigned, though, you can bank on Brouwer heading overseas. He’s got tread left on the tires, and maybe he can play himself back into the NHL.
MIKE CAMMALLERI, LW
Cammalleri isn’t the 20-goal lock he once was. Far from it, really. Since the 2015-16 campaign, the 36-year-old has seasons of 14 goals, 10 goals and seven goals, which would give us at least some reason to believe a double-digit goal total might be a stretch this coming season. But Cammalleri is still a point producer. He had 29 points last season split between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers. He’s not as fast or as lethal as he used to be, but as a fourth-line scoring option and potential second-unit power play hand, Cammalleri could have some use. But one has to figure it’s NHL or bust. If he doesn’t sign on, it’d make sense if it was curtains for Cammalleri’s career.
KEVIN BIEKSA, D
It’s been a rough couple of years for Bieksa. Once a minute-logging tough customer on the back end, the past two seasons saw Bieksa’s average ice time with the Anaheim Ducks dip to 18 minutes per night and he found himself scratched in the post-season. At 37, Bieka has slown down, and the elements of the game he does excel in at this point in his career might not be attractive to many teams anymore. It wouldn’t be entirely unexpected were Bieksa to get a look on a PTO, but it feels like he could go the way of Mark Stuart: an early cut who has to consider options elsewhere. And if he isn’t enticed by offers overseas, retirement might be next.
ANTOINE VERMETTE, C
In each of the past four seasons, Vermette has seen his ice time decline. First, he dipped below 18 minutes per game with the Arizona Coyotes, which then fell to less than 17 minutes the next campaign. Once in Anaheim, Vermette’s average ice time decreased to below 16 minutes and he ended this past season skating less than 14 minutes per night. What Vermette does well is win faceoffs — he’s at 61.2 percent on 2,000-plus draws over the past seasons — but given he’s a 36-year-old who doesn’t pair his on-the-dot acumen with offensive output, there’s a fair chance he doesn’t make it past the PTO stage. From there, he’ll have a choice to make, but it seems as though this could be the end of the line for Vermette.
SCOTT HARTNELL, LW
Of all the names on this list, Hartnell might seem as though he’d be among the least likely to latch on this season, but the 36-year-old is the kind of player coaches seem to love. He’s physical, respected in the dressing room and a fourth-line producer, too. He scored 13 goals and 23 points in 61 games last season, making him the third-highest scoring UFA still on the market. He’s likely to come cheap, too. Here’s the thing, though: if he goes into camp, fights for a job and misses out, Hartnell seems ready to walk away from the game. He acknowledged as much earlier in the off-season in speaking with The Tennessean.
TOBY ENSTROM, D
Diminutive and oft-injured, Enstrom wasn’t among the most sought-after blueliners in the NHL, but that the 33-year-old remains without at least a PTO at this point in the season is somewhat surprising. When healthy, he moves the puck well and could be an asset as a depth defender. But with no calls coming in, it’s seeming increasingly likely that Enstrom heads back home and skates in the Swedish League next season. In fact, rumors have been abound that Enstrom is talking deal with Modo, with whom he played more than 200 games before coming to the NHL in 2007.
RICK NASH, LW
As of right now, Nash is taking some time to determine his future. He battled concussion issues during the back half of the campaign, with his ailments marring his time with the Boston Bruins post-deadline. But if Nash decides he wants to have another go-round in the NHL, there will be teams knocking on the 34-year-old’s door. Overall offensive decline or not, Nash has managed 20-plus goals in all but one season since his sophomore campaign. He’s a one-tool power forward at this point, but that one tool — his goal-scoring ability — makes him intriguing. So, maybe Nash needs an asterisk, but if he chooses to play, he’ll be back in the NHL next season.
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