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In NHL, There's No Shame in Trying Out at Training Camp

Sep 14, 2010 – 12:00 PM
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Christopher Botta

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As he approaches his 40th birthday on Nov. 9, even an all-star, U.S. Olympian, former captain and two-time Stanley Cup champion like Bill Guerin understood he might have to take the road less traveled.

"For the right situation, with the right franchise, yes -- I would consider it," Guerin, a right wing with a resume that also includes 429 goals and 1,263 regular season games, told NHL FanHouse over the weekend.

Guerin was talking about auditioning for an NHL team as a training camp invitee. On Monday, he accepted a training camp invitation from the Philadelphia Flyers. If a player of Guerin's stature went the tryout route, it's easy to understand why we'll continue to learn this week about lesser accomplished players skating without guarantees at a training camp near you.

The New York Rangers have had their invitations accepted by defensemen Garnett Exelby and Alexei Semenov along with wing Ruslan Fedotenko, who has been on a pair of Stanley Cup teams -- one in Tampa Bay led by current Rangers head coach John Tortorella. The Dallas Stars are providing an opportunity at their training camp to Jonathan Cheechoo, the 30-year-old left wing whose career has been in freefall since scoring 56 goals as a member of Joe Thornton's line with the San Jose Sharks five years ago.

As first reported by Kevin Allen of USA Today, the New York Islanders sent out word in late August to several agents that clients with NHL experience willing to come to camp without a contract were welcomed at their training facility. The players would be given legitimate consideration for a roster spot. As practitioners of the training camp open audition, the Islanders could point to recent history as proof that attendance would be worth a player's time.

"Accepting that tryout invitation turned out to be a smart move. ... All I asked for was a fair chance to make (the Islanders), and I got it."
-- Richard Park
Four years ago, veteran grinder Richard Park and goaltender Mike Dunham were invited to Islanders training camp by general manager Garth Snow. While Snow and his coaching staff made decisions on what young players belonged on the team, Park and Dunham proved they were good leaders and teammates and -- most importantly -- could still play. Park signed a one-year deal and stayed with the team for four seasons. Dunham signed a one-year deal and is now a goalie coach with the franchise.

"Accepting that tryout invitation turned out to be a smart move," said the 34-year-old Park, who last week left the NHL after 15 seasons for a guaranteed three-year deal in Switzerland. "From the beginning of my tryout, the Islanders were always open and honest with me with where I stood. All I asked for was a fair chance to make the club, and I got it."

Tryout invitations rarely come with promises attached. A year ago, highly-respected defensive center Blair Betts endured an offseason that threw him for a loop. He was coming off four seasons of solid play with the Rangers as a coach's favorite for his faceoff skill, penalty-killing ability, shot-blocking prowess and honest work ethic. Despite his good name, Betts did not receive any one-way contract offers. In late August 2009, Betts accepted what he believed was the best offer for him -- an invitation to try out for the Flyers.

"There comes a point when you have to accept fate," said Betts. "At that point, I wanted to prove myself and probably could have gone to a few camps. But I wanted to be part of a winner and a strong franchise, so I thought the Flyers were the best team for me."

The old fashioned way, Betts earned a one-way contract for the 2009-10 season at $550,000. In February, after watching him at work for another four months, the Flyers gave him a two-year extension with a raise to $700,000.

In September 2010, with every team in the NHL either fighting to stay under the salary cap or watching their bottom line, NHL players on the fringe should view Park and Betts as their role models. There are too many good NHL veterans looking for work, but there are jobs to be won. If you believe in your ability, this is not the time to complain about a lack of offers. Get thee to a training camp.
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