Pittsburgh Penguins: The Hidden Agenda Behind Professional Tryout Contracts

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced yesterday that they had signed known NHL enforcer Tom Sestito to a professional tryout contract and many fans began wondering how this fit their offseason plans.

The easy answer to how Sestito fits the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16 is that he doesn’t, plain and simple. So, why would Jim Rutherford reach out to him in order to give him a shot at making this roster?

Let’s revisit last fall when the Pens were entering their first training camp under the new management and coaching regime. When Rutherford and company took the job they vowed to make the Pittsburgh Penguins a more playoff-capable team. They wanted grit, toughness and physicality in order to become a harder team to play against when the post-season rolls around. To do so, they traded James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling and then signed the likes of Blake Comeau and Steve Downie.

In a surprising move heading into camp, they also signed Daniel Carcillo to a professional tryout contract. With a guy like Downie on the team, giving Carcillo a chance at making the Pens seemed odd. How many penalty minutes could one team possibly want to accrue in a season?

The truth is, there was no real shot for Carcillo in Pittsburgh. But, he was given a chance to showcase his ability to compete at the NHL level at that point in his career, which many doubted he could do. The result is that he was released by the Pittsburgh Penguins and signed in Chicago with the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, the same team he won a Cup with in 2013. You’re probably wondering, why would the Penguins invite someone for a tryout in order to help them prove their ability to other teams?

It’s actually quite common for players to partake in camp on PTO’s and then sign with other organizations. There’s a multitude of reasons it benefits the team that brings them on, one of which is relationship building with that player’s representing agent. From a business perspective, it’s easy to understand how a team can benefit from allowing a player to showcase their abilities, as a lot of them are represented by the same firms. When it comes time to negotiate, those favors go a long way as building blocks in very important relationships.

The same thing can be said for Sergei Gonchar this fall. Consider the fact that Gonchar gets the opportunity to prove whether or not he can still compete in the NHL and the Pens get a savvy veteran as a mentor to players like Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta for a few weeks. It’s a win/win situation for all parties involved. The difference in the Gonchar situation is that while his representing agent will surely appreciate the exposure, the Pens are likely doing this for him as a thanks for what he did in Pittsburgh from 2005-2010. Plus, they benefit from him spending some time here as well.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory by any means but rather a beneficial move for players and teams during a time of year that allows them to have the flexibility for these moves. So, while it’s surprising to see the Pittsburgh Penguins bring in veterans and enforcers during a summer that they’ve vowed to get younger and faster, keep in mind that these guys likely won’t be around after camp.