The news that Petr Sykora will attend the Minnesota Wild camp on a tryout basis is symbolic of the dilemma facing all the veteran NHL players that didn't get a contract offer this summer, and opted not to play overseas in Russia:
Do they swallow their pride and - with no guarantees - try to earn a roster spot for the first time in forever? Or do they sit at home and await a firm deal and bide their time that way?
In Sykora's case, he likely assessed the Wild's comparatively pop-gun attack; understood that new coach Todd Richards wanted to change the defensive culture of the team; and figured the risk was worth taking. Also in Sykora's favour: He has a history with Chuck Fletcher, the Wild's new GM, who was an assistant to Ray Shero with the Pittsburgh Penguins up until last spring.
Sykora earned a Stanley Cup ring with the Penguins last season, the second of his career, even though he mostly watched the playoffs from the press box. And when he did finally get in during the final against the Detroit Red Wings - replacing the ineffective Miro Satan - he lasted less than a full game before breaking his foot while blocking a shot.
Sykora, it seems, has been around forever, but he is only 32 and as recently as two seasons ago, was thriving on a line with the Penguins' brilliant Evgeni Malkin. Even as his role diminished under coach Dan Bylsma last year, Sykora still managed 25 regular-season goals. Believe it or not, that would have tied him with Owen Nolan for the club lead in Minnesota.
So there is a reasonable chance Sykora could crack the Wild roster - and if he does, the only issue then will be what sort of salary is he willing to play for? Most players of his pedigree don't want to drop below seven figures. Even the players with limited off-season options - think Todd Bertuzzi or Jason Williams in Detroit, or Alex Tanguay in Tampa - want at least that much for their troubles. Bertuzzi and Williams eventually signed for $1.5-million apiece with the Red Wings. Tanguay, meanwhile, took $2.5-million, for the chance to play with Vincent Lecavalier, after earning more $5-million last year in the final year of his deal with the Montreal Canadiens.
Pittsburgh, it would seem, is sticking to the managerial strategy that worked so well in each of the past two seasons - start the year with a bare-bones roster and then add the missing pieces closer to the trading deadline, when the salary-cap charges are relatively modest.
Satan isn't back for an encore either - and Bill Guerin took a reasonable $2-million so he could play beside Sidney Crosby for a full season, a line that will also feature Chris Kunitz. Auditions are underway to see who gets to play with Malkin, until such time as Max Talbot returns from off-season shoulder surgery. For now, it's Tyler Kennedy getting a shot in that spot.
On a team where Crosby and Malkin each count $8.7-million against the cap annually, the only two buys that Shero made on the unrestricted free-agent market this summer were a couple of bargain-basement acquisitions - forward Mike Rupp (from New Jersey) and defenceman Jay McKee (who'd been bought out by St. Louis). Each signed for $800,000.
More and more, it looks as if that will be a continuing feature of the NHL's salary-cap world - that fringe veteran players, prepared to work cheap, may soon be as important as inexpensive and eager young kids in terms of how a team fills out its roster.