When the calendar turned to September and Derek Roy still hadn’t received a firm contract offer, the 32-year-old center who has scored nearly 200 goals in almost 750 NHL games decided to do something he hadn’t done since his youth.
He accepted an invitation to try out for a team.
Roy joined the Washington Capitals on a professional tryout agreement, commonly known as a PTO, on Sept. 13, five days before training camp opened. He was one of more than 40 players around the league who, frozen out by an unfriendly free agent signing period this summer, suddenly found their careers in limbo.
Thus, Roy had few choices. While a select few players were able to ink last-minute deals with teams who suddenly found themselves in need, and others pondered careers overseas, Roy agreed to head to Washington, hoping that his summer conditioning wouldn’t fail him in a time of great need.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of, what’s the point of sulking on it?” Roy said Tuesday, sitting at his stall in the far corner of the Capitals’ dressing room. “Just go to camp and see how all the hard work in the summer will come out, and so far, it’s been pretty good.”
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who began his career with the Capitals in 1994-95 and has played parts of 20 seasons in the NHL, joined the Pittsburgh Penguins on a tryout. Right wing Brad Boyes, who made the Florida Panthers after a tryout in 2012, had to go that route with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who signed him to a one-year contract on Sunday.
Curtis Glencross, the right wing who was acquired by the Capitals at the trade deadline last season, also joined the Maple Leafs on a tryout. He was cut on Sunday, but quickly found another home. He joined the Colorado Avalanche — also on a tryout — on Monday morning.
“I think the market this year squeezed a few guys out,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think there are more players, more guys that have played in the league, that didn’t get contracts, so I think you’ve got to take advantage of it [and] look at some players that might help your lineup out.”
Having had discussions with the Capitals over a span of several weeks, Roy assumed that in some way, either with a contract or on a tryout, he’d end up in their camp.
The decision to join them was easy. With Nicklas Backstrom’s availability early in the season in doubt because of a left hip injury, the third- and fourth-line center spots still unsettled, and Roy’s own personal desire to hoist an elusive Stanley Cup, Roy figured the Capitals provided him the best shot to make a roster.
In some ways, it’s not too dissimilar from what Roy experienced prior to the 2013-14 season, when he signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues and hoped they could provide him a path to a championship.
That didn’t happen, and his vagabond path through the league continued. After spending his first eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Roy was traded prior to the 2012-13 season to the Dallas Stars, who traded him to the Vancouver Canucks at the deadline. When his contract with the Blues expired before last season, he signed a one-year deal with the Nashville Predators, only to have them ship him to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 29.
Lost in that all that movement was that Roy was once a highly productive player — a two-way forward who had more than 20 goals and 40 assists for four consecutive seasons with the Sabres. He scored a goal in the Capitals’ preseason opener, and had an assist in the victory over the New York Islanders on Monday.
“He’s obviously very skilled,” said right wing T.J. Oshie, who played with Roy in St. Louis. “He’s shown that he can put up good numbers throughout the year. He’s a smart player defensively. He’s very quick and good with his stick, and he’s a great guy, a great teammate, and he’s a fun guy to have around.”
A lot of factors — primarily Backstrom’s health, and the effect other players’ injuries will have on the salary cap — will go into deciding his future with the Capitals. The minimum salary for this season is $575,000; coach Barry Trotz said a decision likely wouldn’t be made on where Roy stands until after the final preseason game on Sunday.
Until then, all Roy can do is what he did over the summer: Wait, and hope for the best.
“I mean, it is a tryout, but at the end of the day, I feel comfortable coming in here,” Roy said. “The older guys have been welcoming and the younger guys have been welcoming, so I just feel part of the team.”