Quick Hits: July 18, 2019
1) While I do not necessarily think this will be the case with the Flyers professional tryout (PTO) arrangement with Chris Stewart, the New York Islanders made a creative -- and Collective Bargaining Agreement compliant -- arrangement with veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg last season. I think that more teams could end up doing something along similar lines to the de facto one-man taxi squad the Isles had going.
The Islanders did not offer Seidenberg a new contract last summer after spending the previous two seasons with the club. After being unable to secure a contract elsewhere, Seidenberg accepted a PTO offer with the Islanders.
During the season, Seidenberg remained with the Islanders on his PTO. He was not under contract, so there was no cap hit or roster spot taken. He practiced with the team, which meant he was totally versed in new coach Barry Trotz's systems and it kept him in game-ready shape just in case the veteran defenseman was needed to be formally added to the roster due to injuries in the lineup. That day didn't come. He never got into a game. However, on Feb. 24, the Islanders rewarded Seidenberg for being a good soldier throughout the process. They signed him to a deal that paid him a prorated $700,000.
With so many NHL teams in cap trouble due to the unexpectedly low $81.5 million ceiling, it would not surprise me if more teams went the same in-season PTO route with players as a way of having an extra veteran player available without cap consequence or using a roster spot. While waivers may apply depending on if/when the player was signed, most PTO players are on the fringe by that point of their careers.
Speaking of Seidenberg, the former Flyers defenseman/right winger (the latter position being part of short-lived Ken Hitchcock experiment in Seidenberg's rookie year, as the player actually started out as a forward in German junior hockey and then switched to D full time) celebrates his birthday today. He turns 38.
Seidenberg's career is a case in point of how players often have to reinvent themselves in order to achieve longevity. When Seidenberg first came over from Germany, he was viewed as more of an offensive-minded/ puck moving defenseman with some physicality to boot. However, his eventual NHL niche, which kept him in the league for 859 regular season games and 69 playoff games, was as a shutdown D who blocked shots.
2) A lot of people may not remember this about Stewart, but there was a time early in his NHL career when he was considered one of the league's fastest-rising power forwards. The Colorado Avalanche's first-round pick (18th overall) in 2006 -- four spots ahead of where the Flyers ultimately selected Claude Giroux -- scored 28 goals and 64 point in 77 games in his second NHL season. Apart from a deft touch around the net, Stewart was an above-average skater for someone with such a huge frame (6-foot-2, 240-plus pounds).
In Stewart's third NHL season, he was leading the Avalanche in goals in the first quarter of the season until his career took a turn after he severely injured his hand in a fight. He never again had quite the same goal-scoring touch, although he combined for 28 goals and 53 points between the Avs and St. Louis Blues in 62 games. Thereafter, a series of injuries following the lockout shortened 2012-13 season -- he and close friend Wayne Simmonds went as a tandem to teams in Germany and the Czech Republic during the lockout -- steadily took a toll and he became more of a strictly bottom-six player.
Last season, after two stints with the Minnesota Wild and being claimed by Calgary off waivers from the Wild, Stewart was unable to find a contract in the NHL or any of the major European leagues, so he played in the British Elite League for the Nottingham Panthers.
Stewart knows Chuck Fletcher well from their time together in Minnesota, and the Flyers offered the 31-year-old a PTO for their training camp in September. The odds of Stewart winning a contract and NHL job seem like a longshot. Additionally, with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms already staring at a veteran scratch rotation issue due to the AHL veteran maximum limit in game-day lineups, adding Stewart on an AHL deal or NHL/AHL two-way contract does not seem practical.
Things could change if Stewart has an outstanding camp or if there are injuries. The more likely scenario is that the PTO goes the way of the one that R.J. Umberger had in Dallas -- at the request of Ken Hitchcock, who had coached the player both in Philadelphia and Columbus -- during the Stars' 2017-18 training camp. Umberger had been out of the NHL for a year at that point, but Hitchcock and Stars general manager Jim Nill gave the veteran a shot at either catching their eye or finding an opportunity elsewhere. Unfortunately for R.J., that was not in the cards.
3) The Flyers have had quite a few players -- many of whom were once pretty prominent in the league -- on PTOs in camp but the list of players who ultimately received contracts is limited. The PTO route is how Jim Dowd got a Flyers contract for the 2007-08 season, and Blair Betts first got a Flyers contract that way in 2009-10. Actually, the Flyers had to bid against another team in Betts' case, because a PTO player is still officially an unrestricted free agent.
The list of Flyers PTOs who were released without a contract is longer and feature more once-prominent players than the ones who got deals: Bryan Berard, Mark Bell, Bill Guerin, and Michael Nylander are the most notable names.
4) The first part of my three-part Systems Analysis series for the Flyers official website is now online. Part 1 features Mike Yeo talking team defense and penalty kill
. Part 2 will feature Michel Therrien discussing forwards and power play. Part 3 will feature head coach Alain Vigneault. I am slated to speak with Vigneault later today; my first one-on-one interview with the new head coach, as previous ones have been in press conference, media conference call/ post-press conference scrum settings.
5) July 18 Flyers Alumni birthdays: Dennis Seidenberg (1981), Ted Harris (1936).