HALIFAX, NS. — With training camp just around the corner, Canadiens fans are starting to get excited for the return of their heroes and hockey talk is starting to take over social media. Discussions abound about certain players and particular outcomes as well as the teams who have improved and the ones who are expected to go in the opposite direction. It all points to another fun season.
On the other hand NHL managers are taking a pragmatic approach, continuing to work hard to improve their team. Trades at this time of year do occur but are unlikely. All the surefire high value UFAs are gone, so what are teams to do? Professional try-out contracts (PTO) could be the answer to providing roster depth.
Even though there are many young up and coming prospects in the Canadiens’ system that will be pushing for an NHL job, the use of a PTO serves two purposes. The first is to act as an insurance policy if none of the half dozen young guns are unable to make the leap to the NHL. The second is to create even more competition and motivate the young players further. Worst case scenario is that the player does none of these things during camp and is allowed to walk away. Yet as the old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
We saw this scenario play out last season with the addition of Tomas Fleischmann (who incidentally is available again.) His addition provided scoring depth, and, when he no longer was needed provided the Canadiens with a tradeable asset that, in addition to Dale Weise, returned a 2018 second round pick and former first round pick Phillip Danault.
Marc Bergevin is hoping one of the prospects will meet their potential. But, what harm is there is bringing in a veteran on a PTO? Team needs dictate that a top-6 capable forward would be the most desired by the Canadiens. There are a few available who can fill that role.
The first is David Jones, the 32-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch, 210 pound winger who split last season between Calgary and Minnesota. Known to be a streaky scorer, he is versatile enough to play either wing position and is defensively capable. His best seasons are behind him, yet given the right situation, he can lineup in a top six role and play a complimentary role. If he is outplayed by younger players, he could play a leadership role in St. John’s if willing to sign a two-way contract. Obviously, Jones has had issues with consistency and injuries. There is a reason he hasn’t received a contract offer yet. But, on a PTO, he could provide some value.
Another player that could be of benefit to the Canadiens on a PTO is Brad Boyes. The 34-year-old, 6-foot, 200 pound winger is a former 40-goal scorer. Those days are far behind him, however, he did score 24 points in 60 games on a goal-starved Maple Leafs squad last season. His defensive game has improved and he is a right shot capable of lining up on the left side. Despite his age, he is still a very swift skater and also known to be quite dangerous in shootouts. At worst, he can fill a top-9 role. Boyes may prove to be the best available veteran to push the young guns in the system to raise their games and earn an NHL roster spot.
There may very well be other veterans who can be named that fit the Canadiens better than Jones and Boyes, but the exercise of bringing in a veteran on a PTO is becoming an NHL standard. It provides a GM added depth at camp to push the youngsters and established players alike, as well as insurance for poor performance by those under contract or in the event of any long term injuries the player can step in as a stop gap measure.
The Canadiens can boast a much-improved forward group over last year’s lineup and while the likelihood that one of Arturri Lehkonen, Charles Hudon or Daniel Carr can fill the role of a second line winger are high, it is always the safest course of action to have a backup plan on hand. Most importantly, summer is coming to an end and we are closer to watching NHL hockey once again.