Matt Pettinger always believed he could play in the NHL. Convincing clubs that his best days aren't in the rearview mirror meant staying sane in the summer and showing a stubborn streak.
When Pettinger agreed to a one-year, two-way contract Monday with the injury ravaged Vancouver Canucks — it pays the minimum $500,000 US at the NHL level — it did more than offer a replacement for injured winger Michael Grabner, who is expected to be sidelined indefinitely with suspected torn ankle ligaments.
It gave Pettinger a rare second shot in The Show with the same team. And it also gave the Victoria hockey product peace of mind after balking at a New Jersey camp tryout before opting for a 25-game pro deal with the Manitoba Moose last month.
"It's one of those weird years," said the 29-year-old Edmonton native, who will line up with Mario Bliznak and Darcy Hordichuk tonight against the New York Rangers at GM Place. "Teams are going with younger guys and pushing two-way contracts and in the salary-cap system, the big guys are getting their money and it's tough for marginal guys."
Especially for desperate tryout veterans trying to make a training-camp impression and already behind the roster eight-ball.
Mark Parrish, Dave Scatchard and Ronald Petrovicky learned that lesson with the Canucks. Pettinger didn't want to do the same with the Devils after Tampa Bay didn't offer a contract after claiming the winger on waivers early last season from the Canucks.
"It was a tough situation," said Pettinger, who has 120 career NHL points in 413 games, including 15 points in 59 games with the Lightning. "For me it was: 'If you're interested in me, then sign me. If not, I'm going to camp and put all the chips on your shoulders.' I wasn't comfortable in that situation. I didn't see too many walk-ons."
What Pettinger did see was opportunity slipping away.
There were offers to play in Europe, but it took a Moose offer after weeks of skating with the ECHL's Victoria Salmon Kings to start the dominoes falling in Pettinger's direction.
And with the Canucks having six forwards on the limp — and Moose forward Guillaume Desbiens also injured and Russian rookie Sergei Shirokov needing more minor-league seasoning — it put Pettinger back on the Canucks' radar. At least, for now.
"If it wasn't for injuries in Vancouver, would I be here? Probably not," admitted Pettinger, who has four points (2-2) in seven games with the Moose. "But you realize that hockey is a business and I've seen it before. I'm probably not the only guy that's been on the same team twice."
The Canucks acquired Pettinger in a trade with Washington for Matt Cooke on Feb. 26, 2008, but he managed just six points (4-2) in 20 games, while Cooke had seven points (3-4) in 17 games with the Capitals. At the start of last season, Pettinger got on an early roll with Manitoba and was claimed on re-entry waivers by the Lightning.
The Canucks are hoping that Pettinger can be more than just a bandage for a banged-up roster, but coach Alain Vigneault was blunt with his words to the winger.
"'You've got to make the best of it,'" he told Pettinger. "'Last year, some guys outplayed you for a position.'
"He knows how we function here and we just thought it was a good fit."
How good? We're about to find out. Maybe enduring all those endless offseason questions in Victoria was all the incentive that Pettinger needed.
"The hardest part was talking to people," he said. "'Where are you going? Have you got a job yet?' The physical stuff I'm used to, but hearing it daily from different people kind of wears on you."
If Pettinger can help wear down the opposition and contribute offensively, he'll prove a much better option than recalling Shirokov.
"We really believe Sergei needs time to understand the North American game and get his hockey situation a little more stable," said Vigneault.
Pettinger is hoping to do the same.
E-mail sports reporter Ben Kuzma at firstname.lastname@example.org