There are only a handful of days remaining before training camps start, but there are many players still searching for a job this season. Unable to secure a guaranteed contract, there are few options these players can utilize to acquire NHL work. There is always a chance a team can offer a contract at the end of the offseason, but the main route most players go down is the professional tryout path, or everyone’s favorite acronym, the PTO.
Signing PTOs can be mutually beneficial for both the player and team. The player is able to showcase their potential fit for the signing team, simultaneously giving the team an extra competitive body for training camp at the very least. There are currently seven players that have signed PTOs for the upcoming season. While there exists no guarantee of a contract for any player, the chances of acquiring a deal after accepting a PTO should theoretically increase.
Based on this assumption, I wanted to investigate the recent history of PTOs and their viability as a potential signing method. Using data acquired from CapFriendly, I analyzed the previous three seasons’ worth of PTOs to see whether or not having a player acquired via this method was successful.
PTO Success Rate
Since the 2015-16 season, there have been a total of 342 PTOs signed. This number includes PTOs signed during the season, although the majority of them did occur before or during training camps in September. Looking at a year-to-year breakdown, there is no distinct trend in the number of PTOs signed.
Of the 342 PTOs signed, 195 of them came during the 2016-17 season alone. This insanely high figure did not result in an increased amount of successful signings; the most successful signings actually came during the 2015-16 season with 14. There is the potential that a correlation exists between the quality of free agent class and number of PTOs signed per year, but no distinct trend existed. Just because a team is unable to sign a James Neal like player once free agency opens does not guarantee they will sign a Alex Chiasson like player to a PTO that fall.
Overall, in three seasons, there were only 35 signings that came as a result of a PTO. 31 of these contracts came from the team that signed them, except for four cases when the player opted for a contract with a different team. Kris Versteeg, Lauri Kaurpikoski, Justin Fontaine, and Tom McCollum were the four players that broke the trend of signing with teams that didn’t offer them the initial PTO. In terms of percentages, here is where each season stands:
In terms of overall success rate, the past three seasons have led to a success rate of 10.23% (35/342). On a year to year basis, the 2015-16 season had the highest success rate at a mere 16%. The 2016-17 season saw a paltry 6.15% success rate, most likely due to the high number of PTOs signed. The total number of PTOs singed year to year has fluctuated, with a corresponding low success rate, but due to the number of available roster positions it should be expected that this number is as observed.
PTOs By Team
Knowing now the general figures and success rate of PTOs, how do those numbers look when they are separated by team?
Over the past three seasons, the Calgary Flames lead the league in total number of PTOs signed with 23. The majority of these came during the 2016-17 season where they signed 12 players to a PTO. The Flames went on to sign five of these players over the three years of analysis, including Tanner Glass, Nicklas Grossman, Matt Bartkowski in addition to the aforementioned McCollum and Versteeg. The St. Louis Blues followed closely behind in both total number of PTOs offered (21) as well as players signed by PTO (4), for which Scottie Upshall accounted for two of those signings alone in 2015-16 and 2017-18. The Toronto Maple Leafs set the high for total number of PTOs signed during a season with 14 in 2016-17.
Excluding the Vegas Golden Knights that only have one full season in the league, the Carolina Hurricanes are the team that has least utilized the PTO path. With only three total PTO offers since 2015-16, Carolina appears to fill their roster internally.
PTO Player Statistics
For those who do sign contracts from a PTO, what are the impacts they have on their teams? Let’s look at contract value first.
Since 2015-16, there have been a total of 34 contracts signed via the PTO route. Those 34 contracts have added up to a total value of ~$24.2M, or around $712k per contract signed. The total number of contracts signed via PTOs was at its highest three seasons ago, and has declined in total value since. Ironically, the average of contracts signed during those three seasons has actually increased over time, with the peak coming in 2017-18 at ~$769k per contract. The most lucrative contract signed via a PTO came last season with Roman Polak’s 1 year $1.1M contract signed during the first few weeks of the season. That being said, the PTO path does not always equal financial success, but what about on ice success?
In terms of the players signed, who averaged to an age of 31, they were able to play in an average 35 games per season. The 2017-18 crop of signed players appeared in the most games with an average of 41, the lowest being Brooks Laich at 12 and the highest being Daniel Winnik at 81. Surprisingly over the three seasons, there were five players that signed an NHL contract after a PTO, but did not appear in any games during that season. All five players did not last more than a season after signing their contracts, and all five are no longer in the NHL.
The ability to produce offensively was not always guaranteed, as numbers lacked across all fields. In all three seasons, the players averaged out to produce 4 goals, 6 assists, and 10 points. These numbers of course include the five players that never appeared in an NHL game, but if we are looking at the success of PTO players in general those numbers need to be included. If we were to exclude those players from the analysis, the statistics improve across all categories. Especially in the 2017-16 season, where three of the players omitted cause the average GP to rise to 40.25, from 29.27. The 2015-16 season produced the best statistical numbers in terms of assists and points, while the 2016-17 season produced the best goal scorers of the bunch.
In terms of individual players, Lee Stempniak holds the title for best performance from a player signed by a PTO during these three seasons, after scoring 40 points (16G 24A) during the 2015-16 NHL season with the New Jersey Devils. What is even more impressive is he was able to put up those numbers during only 63 appearances. Versteeg is a close second with 37 points (15G 22A) in 69 games played during 2016-17 with the Flames.
Is It Worth It?
All in all, there doesn’t appear to be any clear correlation between number of PTOs signed and team success. However, it can be a useful tactic for teams to fill out their rosters if they aren’t willing, or don’t have the depth, to promote from within. Offensive outputs aren’t always stellar with players signed on PTOs, but then again they aren’t meant to be in the first place. Players signed by PTO are often not found in the top six of the teams they sign with, rather filling out depth roles with limited minutes. Outside of a few exceptions, the majority of players end up being fringe NHLers that often end up playing only a single season with that team.
If teams are looking to fill out their training camp rosters, fill a single depth role, or attempting to meet roster requirements, signing a player to a PTO may be a worthwhile gamble. Outside of that, it may be more beneficial for a team to fill the position from within rather than taking a chance on a PTO player.