Michael Stone has been in the position before.
Stone, in camp with the Calgary Flames on a professional try-out, is used to the September jitters after signing three consecutive one-year league minimum deals late in the offseason.
“This is not a new position for me,” lamented Stone. “I’m just here playing like I know I can play.”
Familiar territory, no doubt.
Stone’s last three signings came on September 10, 2021, January 18, 2021, and September 11, 2019. The January inking came in the COVID-19 shortened season when the Flames kicked things off four days before Stone’s start.
A seemingly annual tradition, those starting sweats.
“I wish it wasn’t,” the 32-year-old defenceman said.
“I’m hanging on really. That’s just what I’m trying to do.”
Stone has seen his NHL action dwindle over the course of the past three contracts, playing 33 games in 2019-20, getting in 21 skates in 2020-21, and logging just 11 spins in 201-22 before suiting up for nine games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as one of the club’s unlikeliest unsung heroes.
"I'm just here playing like I know I can play."
With 2 goals in 2 pre-season games, Michael Stone has been rock solid on the blueline. pic.twitter.com/lRTElbYK1J
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) September 29, 2022
He’s remained respectively productive in that span, scoring twice in each season, and added two more postseason markers. In fact, Stone has eight goals and 22 points over his last 74 skates in a depth role where he’s averaged in the neighbourhood of 16 minutes per game.
Efficient numbers for a player continually fighting for a spot in the locker room.
“I’m always stressed,” deadpanned Stone, who has added two goals in preseason action with the Flames. “At this point, it is what it is. It’s the way I have to approach it. You play as long as you can. I’d like to stick around here and I’d like to stay in this organization. That’s why I’m here.”
Calgary’s been home to Stone since the Flames acquired the 6’3″, 210-point right-shot defender from the Arizona Coyotes in 2017. Since then, he’s been bought out by the club, signed again, and is now seeking his fourth straight one-year pact to continue his time on hockey’s top circuit.
And there’s nowhere else he’s considering. Now, or after he hangs up the skates.
“I haven’t had a whole lot of that kind of opportunity,” he said. “When it’s late and you’ve got three kids in school and everything going on that’s hard to do. At this point, not really right now.
“I’m not planning on going anywhere when I’m done playing.”
Stone’s fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen this fall, though.
The wrinkle this time around is that he’s in camp on a try-out basis.
No guaranteed cash.
No guarantees of employment.
“To be honest, I haven’t even really paid much attention to that,” Stone said. “I feel like I’m here and I come to the rink like I always do. That doesn’t really matter. Hopefully, things work out the way I would like them to.
“We’ll see what happens.”