EDMONTON — There are 13 pay periods inside a National Hockey League season. When Alex Chiasson got off the plane in Edmonton back in September, he was just trying to get to one of them.
He came out west on a professional tryout — a PTO — the second year in a row that he had gone through the summer unsigned and hungry for work.
“Not the position you want to be as a player,” the 28-year-old Montrealer said in his second language, only a hint of an accent left after seven NHL seasons, a couple of years in the minors, and three seasons at Boston University. “But for me, I’ve never been allowed to sit back. I’ve always had to put in the work, and when you come in on a PTO there’s no guarantee. You can stay, or you can go.”
It took some time, but Chiasson earned a spot here. It seemed like his reward would be the one-year, $650,000 deal the Oilers bestowed upon him.
As it turned out, that was just an appetizer.
The real reward, as he drilled home his 14th goal of the season in a 4-1 win over Philadelphia Friday night, was a spot on the Oilers top line with a pair of top-10 NHL scorers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
And those pay periods?
Average out McDavid’s $15 million in earnings this season over them and it’ll take just two weeks to record more cash than Chiasson will make all season long.
“We are really happy for him,” said McDavid, after burying the Flyers with another three-point night, his fourth multi-point game in his past five outings. “When you win a Cup, it is a little surprising he didn’t have a deal. He came in on a PTO and worked hard and earned a job and has been having a great year. I couldn’t be happier for him, he is a fun guy to play with.”
The metaphor for Chiasson’s career comes in the fact he hoisted a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals last spring, and was cut loose by the Caps even before Alex Ovechkin had sobered up from the party. So he packed his gear, shopped for a contract that never came, and arrived in Edmonton as camp fodder, a dusty veteran trying to steal a job from shiny, young first-rounders like Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto.
Those kids? They get all kinds of rope, because the organization invested in them.
The Dallas Stars spent a second-round pick on Chiasson, once. But that was nine years and five organizations ago.
Guys like Chiasson? They get zero rope.
“That’s fair to say,” he said. “I’ve never been able to stick around some team, but I think I’ve learned from that, grown into that.
“If you want to score 15, 20 goals in this league, unless you’re a superstar, you’ve got to have different tools in your tool box to score. Whether it’s around the net, one-timers … those are things I’ve worked on the last two years, maybe I wasn’t put in a position to use it before, but now … I’m feeling confident.”
Chiasson scored his 14th on a lovely feed from Draisaitl, and now has just 46 shots on goal. That’s a shooting percentage of 30 per cent, the best among NHL players with 10 goals or more.
It is, as they say, unsustainable.
But they would say the same about the Cinderella story that has Chiasson playing next to McDavid, wouldn’t they?
“He has a knack for scoring and is finding a way to get open,” the Oilers captain said, his team freshly nestled into second place in the Pacific after its sixth straight win at Rogers Place. “He has that quick release, so he doesn’t need to be open for long. Tonight he was just open for a second and he got it off his tape pretty quick.”
The Oilers are now 9-2-2 under Ken Hitchcock, while goalie Mikko Koskinen (31 saves), is now 7-0 at Rogers Place.
As for Chiasson, he’s passed his career-high in just 33 games. There are still 49 games left in his season — as in 6-49 — for the guy who won the McDavid lottery in Edmonton.
Is it easy, or hard to play with one of the best players in the world?
“I think both,” Chiasson said. “There’s nothing easy, but when Connor gets skating, and the quality of player that Leon is, sometimes I look around and there aren’t many players around me. So, that’s kind of nice.
“At the same time, there is a lot more that’s expected out of you … with the minutes that you’re playing.”
Keep playing these minutes, scoring goals this way, and he’d better watch out. Chiasson might get a three-year deal.
So we asked him: Could he be the same player, on a multi-year deal?
“Of course,” he counters. “I’ve had to grind it out, to stay. I reached 400 games the other day. I’ve won a Cup. There have been a lot of highs, and a lot of lows. That’s never going to take away the pride I take in myself, or the work I put in.”
Somewhere, Patrick Maroon lets out a sigh.