It was the timing rather than the presence of Jerry D'Amigo's name on the list of cuts by the Toronto Maple Leafs that underscored a couple of realities about today's NHL.
The first has actually been true of the NHL for practically as long as it's been around, not just a cold fact of life under the salary cap. That is the passage of a player from prospect to suspect, the point at which the team's management decides the young man in question has had ample time and opportunity to develop into a major-league player but is stalled. It is then that he, like D'Amigo, starts to be among the team's first round of cuts.
D'Amigo, 22, was never one of the Leafs' most prized prospects, a sixth-round draft choice in 2009, but he was getting consideration as a dark horse candidate as a third- or fourth-line winger heading into this season's training camp. His best season in the American Hockey League was 41 points in 2011-12, but there was some thought D'Amigo could be a decent penalty-killer and checker.
However, Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle obviously decided after just five days of training camp D'Amigo did not show what it takes and he was sent to the Toronto Marlies farm team on Tuesday. This will be D'Amigo's fourth AHL season, which definitely puts him on the suspect track.
The second reality of the NHL, this one peculiar to the world of the salary cap, is probably why a decision on D'Amigo came faster than it might have even a year ago. Thanks to last season's lockout and new collective agreement, the salary cap this season is artificially low at $64.3-million (all currency U.S.), which means a lot of experienced players are looking for jobs right now.
A lot of them, such as winger Mason Raymond with the Leafs, are in training camps fighting for jobs on what are called professional tryout offers. Show enough to make the team and you get a contract, probably for something around $600,000 if the team has to be mindful of the cap like the Leafs.
This makes it a lot harder for the second tier of prospects to win a job in training camp. NHL head coaches, and Carlyle is a prime example, generally prefer experience when they have their druthers because it is usually more helpful to their job security.
At 28, Raymond has six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks on his resume, including one with 25 goals. So, when Carlyle is looking to fill a vacancy on his third line, the D'Amigos of the hockey world had better come to camp flying to stand a chance.
Another name that comes up in the prospect-suspect conversation is centre Joe Colborne, 23, who was taken 16th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2008 entry draft. When he arrived in the Tomas Kaberle trade two and a half years ago, Colborne was considered a candidate to be the long-sought No. 1 centre some day but it hasn't happened yet.
Now, Colborne's only chance to make the Leafs is as the fourth-line centre. This requires him to use his 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame to knock people around, which is part of his problem in making the NHL to stay.
Colborne has never shown an eagerness to play a physical game, which drives pretty much any NHL coach crazy, let alone Carlyle, who prizes the hard-nosed player above all. Coaches simply cannot fathom big players who play a soft game and Colborne needs to play hard to stay.
But he does have one thing going for him. Colborne is still on the prospect side of the equation and if the Leafs send him to the Marlies he must clear NHL waivers first. Since there is never a shortage of NHL coaches who think they will be the one to finally convince a player to use his physical gifts properly, the chance that a team would claim him is probably enough to keep Colborne with the Leafs as long as he has a decent camp.