The professional try out, or PTO, is one of the more unique contractual agreements used by NHL teams leading into training camp.
On one hand, it can give the team a few extra NHL ready bodies to help push players in training camp battles, while on the other gives a player on the fringe another shot at making an NHL roster.
A few years ago, we took a look at how successful a team or player was in signing a PTO and the results were a mixed bag. From a ridiculous 2016–17 season that saw more PTOs than NHL players in the league, to an extremely low success rate, we wanted to revisit the topic using data from our friends at CapFriendly to see if that trend has changed at all or if the PTO is nearly dead.
PTO success rates
Over the original analysis, there were 342 PTOs signed over three seasons, with 195 of them coming during the outlandish 2016–17 season. Of course during that time the highest amount of successful PTOs was during the 2015–16 season where 14 of those players were able to convert their play into NHL contracts.
That has changed drastically over the last four seasons where although we say the total number of PTOs signed hover around the 30 number mark, the most successful season came during the COVID-19 season where out of just 24 signed, 17 players earned NHL contracts.
Of course with the NHL imposing taxi squads that season, the numbers were skewed as a result. That being said, last season the league still saw 11 successful contracts handed out out of just 31 PTOs.
A trend we saw completely abolished were players singing PTOs with one team, and then earning contracts with another. That looks to be a one-season anomaly.
In terms of percentages, looking at it over the seven year period and on average the success rate of PTOs has increased.
Whether it is due to more league uncertainty, the increasing trend shows that this is still a viable option for players and teams to fill out their roster.
Teams that favour PTOs
One of the more fun parts of this exercise was continuing the trend of tracking which teams use the PTO route the most. Funny enough, the trend hasn’t changed that much for some franchises.
The Calgary Flames continue to dwarf the rest of the league in terms of total PTOs handed out. Not sure if that is banner worthy, but still far more interesting to see the disparity. That being said, the Flames have not handed out any PTOs so far this season so the gap may close a bit.
The one team that jumped up the list as a result of the last four years were the New York Islanders, who now are in a tie for the third most over the last seven seasons.
The most interesting remains to be the Vegas Golden Knights. After one full season, they of course ranked last in our previous analysis, but even after five full seasons they still remain extremely light on PTOs. Signs would point to this being due to cap mismanagement.
Player success with PTOs
Of the deals that translated into successful contracts, the success on the ice has been extremely varied. First off, it’s important to note that we aren’t talking about multi-million dollar players here. The most successful PTO contract conversion came in the 2020–21 when Mike Hoffman inked a deal with the St. Louis Blues for $4M. Out side of that, most of the time we are talking bargain deals:
As we can see, that hugely successful 2020–21 season was the highest in terms of total dollars and in average contract, but even then the total didn’t exceed $1M a season. Most of the time we are dealing with league minimum players who are in need of an NHL job.
From an on ice production standpoint, there weren’t any trends of note.
More successful PTO conversions don’t always lead to more production on the ice. When looking at the 2020–21 season—although being the most successful in players getting contracts—the average amount of points scored was sixth out of the past seven seasons. Now we are also dealing with the taxi squad situation again, with some players never getting on the ice, but it’s still clear there isn’t a one-for-one translation. There is a lot of luck involved to say the least.
That being said, there are still some great deals to find. Last season, Brain Boyle, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Ennis, and Alex Galchenyuk all had 20+ point seasons for players signed for around the league minimum. Not too shabby.
PTO be or not PTO be?
After adding four years of data into the analysis, and taking into account the COVID issues that plagued some teams, it still does look like the PTO is a big hit or miss tool for teams. On one hand you could strike gold and revitalize a player’s career, while on the other you could be taking up a roster spot for a younger prospect.
Either way, there is no doubt having players on PTOs during camp is an effective model that will continue. With the cap being as tight as it is over the next few seasons, there is a chance that more PTO conversions will occur.
At the time of writing, just 15 PTOs have been inked for the 2022–23 season, with more sure to come. Just how well will they work out? Only time will tell.