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There was a time when the North American minor league hockey system would be peppered with ex-NHL players at every level. You'd have teams like the IHL Las Vegas Thunder in 1994 with wacky rosters that included everyone from Alexei Yashin to Pokey Reddick to Clint Malarchuk.
Today, there are more opportunities for players in Europe and especially in the KHL, and there are fewer opportunities in North American minor leagues. (The IHL, for example, folded in 2001.)
But there are still former NHL veterans livin' the dream down in the AHL and ECHL. We're not talking about the players stashed away for salary cap purposes like the AHL's Wade Redden, Jeff Finger, Steven Reinprecht and to a lesser extent Sean Avery. We're talking about the guys who refuse to hang up the skates or feel they're one bad break (for someone else) away from making it back to the Show.
Here are The 7 NHL veterans still livin' the dream in the minor leagues.
7. Brad Lukowich, D
The 35-year-old defenseman broke in with the Dallas Stars in 1997-98 and has 658 NHL games to his credit. He's a member of the Stars organization now, playing down with the AHL Texas Stars. As Defending Big D notes, Lukowich is both a mentor for young defensemen and a bit of veteran depth for Dallas should it require some. He'll make $250,000 this season in the AHL.
6. Jed Ortmeyer, RW
Ortmeyer, 33, looked like he finally found a niche in the NHL during a solid 76-game stint with the San Jose Sharks in 2009-10. Since then, he's been mostly AHL, playing for the San Antonio Rampage and then the Houston Aeros last season, save for a four-game stint with the parent team the Minnesota Wild. He was in camp with the Wild, but was sent through waivers back to Houston. He's not only hanging in there for another shot at the NHL, but continuing to manage his life as he battles pulmonary embolism. Doctors wanted him to retire in 2006 … yet here he is.
5. Jonathan Cheechoo, RW
In 2006, Cheechoo was a 56-goal scorer with the Sharks. He was shipped to the Ottawa Senators in 2009 in the Dany Heatley trade; was bought out in 2010; attended Dallas Stars training camp; returned to the Sharks organization; signed a two-way deal with the St. Louis Blues this summer and is currently playing for the AHL Peoria Rivermen. He also has the greatest theme song in the history of ever. The 31-year-old's mantra: "If you produce, an NHL team will always try to find a spot for you."
4. Mark Bell, LW
In 2007, Bell plead "no contest" to drunken driving and hit-and-run charges after a 2006 Labor Day car accident with another vehicle. That led to two months working in a California jail, and eventually led to Bell's departure from the NHL. He played two years with Kloten of the Swiss National League (which had nearly undetectable advertising on its uniforms), finding his passion for the game again. He signed with the Anaheim Ducks last summer, and is currently playing for the AHL Syracuse Crunch. He's 31 and a former No. 8 overall pick for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998, ahead of players like Alex Tanguay, Nikolai Antropov and Robyn Regehr.
3. Mark Parrish, RW
Parrish has 722 NHL games to his credit, but has played for seven NHL and AHL teams since 2008, when the Minnesota Wild bought out the last three years (!) of his contract. He went to the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers on a tryout contract and then signed with the Dallas Stars. After another tryout with the Canucks failed to produce a job, he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last season, he tried out for the Buffalo Sabres and earned a spot with the Portland Pirates, while also playing twice for the Sabres.
After failing to make the cut in Ottawa Senators camp, Parrish is currently playing for the AHL Binghamton Senators. As he said after his 14th NHL training camp: "Your goal every time you step on the ice, whether you're young or old, is to get noticed and hope the coaching staff likes what you bring to the table."
2. Craig Rivet, D
Rivet went from captain of the Buffalo Sabres last season to the ECHL's Elmira Jackals this season, getting a chance to play close to home while doing the veteran mentor/hoping for a call back to the NHL thing. Chris Gill of The Leader called it "perhaps the best free agent move in the ECHL this offseason."
1. Manny Legace, G
The 38-year-old goalie's last regular NHL gig was in 2009-10, when he played 28 games for the Carolina Hurricanes. Since then, he failed to make the New York Islanders on a tryout deal, played for the Iserlohn Roosters in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany and tried out again to no avail with the Vancouver Canucks this preseason.
He signed a tryout deal with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL and eventually stuck with them. Legace tweaked an old injury on opening night and had to leave the game. Hope it's not the Palin Curse injury ...