By: Andrew Johnson | Follow Me On Twitter @justyouknowhyyy
As the Grateful Dead once said: What a long strange trip it has been.
Between virus-induced paused seasons, bubble cups, internal owner-player strife, and everything in between, it has been a wild off-season that is testing our patience as fans. It is fortunate then that as of this writing, the players and the owners are coming back to the negotiating table. Meaning hockey is close, everyone will be back on the ice soon, and it also means PTOs.
What is a PTO? A PTO is known as a Professional Tryout Contract, is the National Hockey League’s answer to Major League Baseball’s non-roster invitees. Professional Tryouts cost a team nothing but time until opening night, where they can be either signed for cheap or let go for no additional cost. They are another way for free agents that are right on the fringe – whether it be age or other factors to find a fit. With a tight financial situation for teams due to the general state of the world, teams that have their backs up against the salary cap wall can greatly benefit from this. The Boston Bruins are no different in this regard.
Boston has approximately $3 million in cap space as of this writing. With such little wiggle room comes the uncertainty of how the last openings of Boston’s roster get filled. With questions still surrounding unsigned UFAs (Chara), unproven youngsters (Jakub Ziboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen), or a perceived hole on the wing. There are still quality veterans that can contribute at the low price of a League Veteran’s minimum. So today, I highlight four players that could potentially be had on just a tryout (so that means no Mike Hoffmans or Mikael Granlund’s here) and tell you why the Bruins would be well-suited to pursue these players to fill those roles.
1. Slater Koekkoek – LD/RD
The tenth overall draft pick for Tampa Bay back in 2012, Slater Koekkoek is still young enough where that top-ten pedigree still wields some clout. A mobile two-way left-handed defender with the size that the Bruins value at 6’2 195-pounds, Koekkoek has 149 games of NHL experience under his belt with encouraging underlying analytics. Scoring ten points in 42 games in a bottom-pair role-playing 17 minutes a night this past season, Koekkoek was but a faint glimmer of hope for a struggling Chicago Blackhawks team who surprisingly decided not to bring him back. Chicago’s loss could end up being Boston’s gain. Koekkoek is not flashy by any means but can play both the left and right sides and is a player who will not hurt you should he have to play higher in the lineup. Koekkoek would fill a role with a no-frills, low-event style combined with a versatility that Sweeney and Cassidy crave on the back end.
2. Ben Hutton – LD
Ben Hutton is a Left-handed two-way defender who leans more towards the offensive side of the puck. Hutton is coming off a good season for a miserable Los Angeles Kings team scoring 16 points in 64 games and an honest-to-god +3 rating playing around 17 minutes a night. Much like Koekkoek, the 27-year-old Hutton was not brought back due to being declared excess goods by a rebuilding Kings squad. Hutton could fill the bottom pairing puck-moving defenseman role needed due to Matt Grzelcyk’s potential ascension into a higher spot on the depth chart.
You could do far worse than someone like Hutton for this spot. Being a positive even-strength defender when you are on the ice is tough when you play for a team that was ranked third from the bottom in the Western conference in goal differential, but that is just what Hutton was able to do. Though he is not the physical type, Hutton is a swift skater who can slot into the power play in a pinch and has that NCAA pedigree (University of Maine – 2015) That the Bruins brass seems to prefer.
3. Michael Del Zotto – LD
A 2008 first-round draft pick, the 30-year-old Del Zotto, firmly established himself as a journeyman in the NHL. Del Zotto’s next team will end up being the seventh of his career and his fifth in the last five years (Philadelphia, Vancouver, Anaheim (x2), St. Louis). Making Del Zotto a quintessential candidate for a PTO. Another defenseman who had a decent season as a rotational sixth/seventh defender for a rebuilding team. Del Zotto made a positive impact on the ice in somewhat sheltered minutes (14 points in 49 games with a +2 rating playing almost 20 minutes a night). Del Zotto can still move at his age, with his production and experience as a well-traveled veteran making him an attractive insurance policy and leader for the infusion of youth Sweeney ultimately wants to see on the back end.
4. Drake Caggulia – LW/RW
Even though the Bruins are set up very nicely with their forward group as constructed, a player like Caggiula is the kind of guy who would become an instant fan favorite at TD Garden. The 26-year-old Caggiula is a fast, defensively sound player that is a pure buzzsaw. With a style that calls to mind former Bruin Noel Acciari, Caggiula has a little pop-gun offense (15 points in 40 games playing 12 minutes a night) to augment his game. Ultimately his calling card is his physicality, despite the fact that that Caggiula was another victim of the Blackhawks numbers game. A bottom-6 forward who can switch between the left and right wings and be a pure wrecking ball on the ice would make a perfect fit for a front office continuing to trumpet a want for the team to be tougher to play. Caggiula would fit this bill to a tee.