What We Learned: Let's not freak out about NHL camp tryout drama

What We Learned: Let's not freak out about NHL camp tryout drama

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

This is a thing that shouldn't have to be said, but apparently still needs saying, so here goes: NHL teams that invite NHL veterans to training camp with no actual guarantee of a contract is just good business.

Pretty simple concept, really. If a team does this, it potentially improves them in some tangible way — often providing little more than team depth, but that in itself is obviously worth something — with the only cost to them being money. And even then, that's only if the invitee can beat out whatever other guys on the team might also be competing for a spot, usually at the bottom of a lineup.

These facts are self-evident. If you invite a guy to camp without a contract, you are by definition guaranteeing him nothing but a chance to skate around in a few exhibition games and fill out the “NHL player” roster requirements for such without exposing your own players to a potential injury when some AHL goon geeked up on adrenaline and smelling salts decides to take a run at him from behind to “prove himself” to what he hopes will be his new NHL team.

You are not offering him a job, you are not compromising anything. In fact, it's a good insurance policy for your own players (though perhaps a bit disingenuous to your fans, who have to pay through the nose for exhibition games featuring Sheldon Brookbank as their home team's No. 2 defenseman).

And yet here were are, about a week and a half before training camps open, with people loudly complaining about two training camp invitations in particular. The first is the more controversial, with the Penguins having called up a former player for just about every half-decent team of the last five years or so, Dan Carcillo.

From 2011 to today, Carcillo has had a remarkable journey, playing for four Stanley Cup finalists in the last four seasons: Philadelphia in 2010-11, Chicago in 2012-13, and both of them from last season thanks to a combined 57 games between Los Angeles and the Rangers. Has Carcillo been in any way responsible for these teams' successes in that time? Of course not. He has, in point of fact, been detrimental to them. But NHL teams look at that resume and say, “He must be doing something right,” because NHL teams often value the ability to simply be on good teams over the ability to actually contribute to them (this is lately known as “The Bolland Corollary,” but proved true time and again over the years).

Carcillo being invited to Pittsburgh, of all places, seems particularly odious to some observers, who left their takes on the matter to sit on an early September sidewalk still-scorching from the long, hot August. As is often the case with the Battle of Pennsylvania, being a former Flyer is a nigh-unforgivable crime, but if Carcillo were a decent player (alas, he is not) then perhaps his sin of having collected a paycheck in the same commonwealth three years ago could be overlooked. But because literally all he's good for is boarding people and fighting — though less often than he once did; he has 12 over the past three seasons, after posting a combined 30 in 2009-10 and 2010-11 alone — this is seen as an affront to Penguindom, and all Mario Lemieux has ever stood for.

It is, of course, not. Carcillo's chance of making the Penguins this season is minuscule, and probably non-existent if we're being honest. While third- and fourth-line depth has been an issue in Pittsburgh the last few years, the team took strides toward shoring that up this summer which were better than they should have reasonably expected. Carcillo might have pushed for a roster spot — very maybe — last season or the one before that, but now it would be truly shocking if he did so. And what's more, if there's a guy who gets beat for, say, the 13th forward spot by Dan Carcillo, of all the hockey players in the world, then that's not a guy you want on your team to begin with.

Further, no one is going to argue that guys like Carcillo are even replacement-level players. Because they are not. If the need strikes, you could call up a good AHLer and expect better hockey than what they're going to provide, and assuredly that's what the Penguins will do. All Carcillo provides is “jam” or whatever coaching pablum is applied to relatively talentless players, and guys like that are available by the bushel.

The handwringing over “What does this mean for Pittsburgh's philosophy?!” is silly. It means nothing.

The other big invite that drew an unnecessary amount of fretting was Boston's decision on Friday to allow Ville Leino to come to camp. You know, “the” Ville Leino: That guy who suuucks and whose contract suuuucked, and the two were both so bad that he had to be bought out by Buffalo, a team that suuuuuuuuuuucks. You can see where people got upset.

These worriers, in effect, got all worked up about was the fact that Leino never lived up to his deal. He, of course, was never going to. He signed for $4.5 million a season in 2011-12, back when $4.5 million a season wasn't a number reserved for borderline top-six wings and second-pairing defensemen. Back when saying, “$4.5 million,” actually meant what we still think it does today.

What people forget is that when he signed that deal, it was only because Buffalo had just been bought by a billionaire, and they wanted to make a splash. Was it a sickening belly flop? You bet it was. Leino's salary went from $800,000 per year to $4.5 million (an increase of well over 500 percent), despite the fact that he'd never shown he could be much more than a third-line contributor at the best of times during the regular seasons, which is all he'd ever see in Buffalo anyway. His contributions with the Sabres over three seasons (10-36-46 points in 137 games) puts him in a points-per-60 range with Gregory Campbell and Chad Larose, which is bad, and clearly not worth the money.

But at the same time, there are worse third- and fourth-line options than that in the league, and some of them are straight-up getting paid (Brian Boyle, Rene Bourque, and Shawn Horcoff actually had points-per-60 lower than that over the same period, though all faced more adverse situations than Leino). Thus, if you can have a Ville Leino on your team for, say, $700,000, that has the potential to be valuable. Especially for a team like Boston that's in a serious cap crunch, and frankly needs help on the wings.

These, again, are nothing more than smart decisions from Rutherford and Peter Chiarelli, because both of their teams are right against the cap, and at worst these players will give them more options for a nominal fee. If the last few days have been any indication, both these guys could theoretically be signed to two-way deals (a la Corey Potter in Calgary or Steve Eminger in Boston) as well, giving the team flexibility to call up actual borderline NHL talent when the need arises, while not keeping them on the books until such time. These players, who have been around the league for years, can also help shepherd along both teams' burgeoning prospects and so on, if you believe in that stuff.

The thing is, neither of these tryouts are likely to result in an NHL deal, but seeing if they might hurts neither team nor player. The only people who might walk away upset about it are the people who bought preseason tickets.

And if you're doing that, you deserve to be disappointed in the first place.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Still cool to remember that the Ducks basically fund a high school hockey league in their area. But maybe their Hockey Day in Southern California should take place a little later in the season than “a week before training camps open.”

Arizona Coyotes: It really does boggle the mind that the Coyotes let Radim Vrbata walk (to a division rival no less) when he was one of three or maybe four guaranteed 20-plus goal guys on the team. Of course, he tried that whole “playing elsewhere” thing before and it didn't work out for him, but where do those goals come from now?

Boston Bruins: The Bruins have roughly a million NHL-ready defensemen on the roster, and will probably trade at least one of them. One who deserves to get a shot in the NHL — and it probably won't be with Boston — is David Warsofsky, an ultra-mobile undersized puck-mover who can put up decent numbers in the AHL.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres power play is awful. This isn't news since it only went off at 14 percent last season, but this breakdown does not paint a pretty picture. They weren't unlucky, they were just ungood.

Calgary Flames: Spread the news: Sam Bennett was in Ottawa when Sidney Crosby was arrested insofar as he was also working out in Colorado, and not actually in Ottawa.

Carolina Hurricanes: Whoever wins the starting goaltender job in Raleigh this season will be expected to play 60 games this year. That means 22 games of Cam Ward! That means like 16 losses!

Chicago Blackhawks: If you were wondering whether people know what “elite” means in the NHL today: Nope.

Colorado Avalanche: Hmm.. Nathan MacKinnon is impressive, you say? I don't know guys. That might not be true.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Not only do the Blue Jackets have a former Vezina winner in their crease for the foreseeable future, but they also have two very good prospects for the same position in the AHL. No fair.

Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn says that the team getting Jim Nill basically made them make a total turnaround in a short period of time. Pretty hard to argue that any GM has done better over the last year and a half.

Detroit Red Wings: Another tryout invitation: Raphael Diaz. That seems like a good fit, at least if Diaz accepts.

Edmonton Oilers: Without playing a single game for Edmonton, Mark Fayne already has the team's “worst contract.” Tough bounce.

Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad thinks he'll make the Panthers next season, but what's a better idea? Giving him bottom-pairing minutes and power play time in the bigs or letting him play 25 a night in the OHL for another year?

Los Angeles Kings: NHL.com ranked Drew Doughty as the best defenseman in the league. Hard to argue with, unless you're a PHWA voter; Doughty finished sixth in Norris voting this past season.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild, for all the moving-in-the-right-direction they've done in the last year or so, still have a lot of problems. Even beyond the mess of a goaltending position, if you can believe that.

Montreal Canadiens: C'mon Marty. Give it up.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: James Neal thinks Derek Roy will have a good season with Nashville this year. He might also want to worry about himself, given that he didn't pack Evgeni Malkin when he moved.

New Jersey Devils: It would take a little doing, I'd think, but Cory Schneider as a Vezina darkhorse is a very real proposition.

(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)
(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)

New York Islanders: I already half-forgot Charles Wang is selling the Islanders soon. What a great summer that franchise had.

New York Rangers: John Moore is close to signing a very affordable extension in New York. That seems like a very smart move.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators basically want any non-bad forward you can trade them.

Philadelphia Flyers: I love that even Zac Rinaldo was like, “Oh you guys want to extend me already? Okay cool.” Flyers in a big hurry to lock up those borderline-NHL non-contributors.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pressure? Don't tell Mike Johnson about pressure.

San Jose Sharks: Mirco Mueller potentially making this team would probably be a very good thing. Better than the psychological impact of wearing teal in the playoffs anyway.

St. Louis Blues: Still no movement on the Jaden Schwartz contract. They might start camp without him, because they're still “significantly apart” on the terms.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos says he still isn't 100 percent after breaking his leg early last year, and then playing the last 24 games of the regular season. Hey, maybe they shouldn't have let him play that back two dozen games, eh?

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs might let Brendan Mikkelson come to camp on a tryout. He spent all of last season in the AHL, but put up solid numbers.

Vancouver Canucks: I mentioned Radim Vrbata earlier. They're gonna use him on the top line, at least on a tryout basis, to see how he meshes with the Sedins.

Washington Capitals: Hey, there might actually be a venue for the Winter Classic this year. What a concept.

Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane says he's happy to be with Winnipeg. Of course, that was on the radio so we can't rule out that he was also crossing his fingers and shaking his head and winking while he said it.

Gold Star Award

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Hey why would the NHL consider adding expansion franchises? Because Gary Bettman recently said that the fees for such would come in quite high. How high? He said $350 million per team is “way too low.” Man.

Minus of the Weekend

From the wonderful Fluto Shinzawa's look at how the NHL is starting to focus more on puck-moving D: “Stay-at-home defensemen still make their money, from Dan Girardi (six years, $33 million) to Brooks Orpik (five years, $27.5 million) to Nikita Nikitin (two years, $9 million).” And what do all those contracts have in common? That's right: They're awful. Paying “defensive defensemen” even middling money is one of the strangest market inefficiencies in the league today.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Optimus Reim” wants to keep it interesting.

To Avs:
Hall
First 2015

To Oilers:
MacKinnon
Johnson

Signoff

It's like instant gratification, but later.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here