A few weeks ago, word came out that veteran Owen Nolan was skating with the San Jose Sharks at informal pre-training camp practices. No big deal, right? Nolan, who still lives in the Bay Area despite not having skated for the Sharks for years, is a regular at these scrimmages, as are other ex-Sharks who've remained local. The difference this time was that Nolan was without a contract and the scuttlebutt around the Bay Area was that Nolan would have one last hurrah with his old team -- a team he captained from fledgling also-rans into the sexy Stanley Cup pick for several years. Nolan admitted as much that that was his goal, and all the stars seemed to be aligned (and a lot of Bay Area fans got ready plunk down cash for a new #11 jersey).
Then Doug Wilson came out publicly and said, "Thanks, but no thanks." Instead, the Sharks organization decided to let young players battle it out for the remaining spots on the bottom two lines. Thus, Nolan is still looking for a contract, along with other veterans. Someone like Bill Guerin is one step better than Nolan; while Guerin couldn't land a deal, at least he got a tryout with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Wilson's line of thinking is kind of confusing. If the goal is to put the best team on ice, what's the harm in a tryout contract? In fact, aren't tryout contracts essentially a no-lose situation for the team? There's no obligation, and if the veteran player is able to show that he is well-conditioned and skilled enough to beat out a young player for a depth roster spot at a cheap price, what's the harm?
I'm not advocating for roster building with a large number of these guys, but I don't think a no-risk tryout will necessarily hinder any young player's development. If the goal is to put the best team on ice for the present and the future, then these types of moves make sense, especially in a buyer's market. Bill Guerin and Brendan Morrison are getting their chances right now. Nolan, Mathieu Schneider, Slava Kozlov, Robert Lang, Petr Sykora, and more are still waiting for a phone call to get them back on skates.
If there's no commitment and the final outcome could be a cheap contract, why not give it a go? Roster management is all about options. You can't predict injuries. And for young players who hit the eventual wall, it's never necessarily a clear path to success -- they might need to skate through it, go down to the AHL, or simply sit in the press box and view from above. A veteran player in a flexible situation provides a safety net for all of these. And as we've seen in recent years, some of these old dogs still have plenty of bite left. Sure, it may just be 15-20 goals in the regular season (and really, at under a million bucks, is that a bad thing?) but they usually have a knack for reclaiming those old glory moments at the right time.
And if you're curious, I was never really that big of a fan of Nolan during his time here, unlike Sharks pal PJ Swenson. I thought he took bad penalties and earned a big contract off one really big year. However, as he settled into a veteran role, I think he brings value to any team at a bargain basement price and it would have been a good hockey move.