After making his NHL debut and playing 29 games for the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008-09, Joey Crabb spent the entire next season in the American Hockey League, one stop below the world's best league.
He wondered if his first taste of the NHL would also prove his only one.
"I was worried it was my last cup of tea,'' Crabb said.
But a resurgent campaign last season, most of which he spent with the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, reaped Crabb a reward Tuesday, when the Maple Leafs re-signed the winger from Anchorage.
Crabb, 28, said he signed a one-year, two-way contract -- that means he will earn one salary if he plays in the NHL and a much lower salary if he gets shuttled back to the AHL.
According to capgeek.com, Crabb next season will make an NHL salary of $750,000, a substantial raise over the pro-rated $525,000 he earned last season. At the AHL level, his new contract will pay him $105,000, less than the $200,000 he made in that league last season.
As an unrestricted free agent, Crabb said he sought a one-way deal, which is a contract that pays the player an NHL salary no matter what league he plays in. But such a deal is hard to come by for a guy in his late 20s with just 77 NHL games on his rink resume.
Crabb said he decided to return to Toronto because he received an opportunity and generous playing time from the club last season, when he skated in 48 games and delivered 3-12--15 totals and a minus-one rating.
"My main goal is to play in the NHL, and I feel like they have a good feel for me and I have a good feel for them,'' Crabb said. "I was happy with last season. I ended the season with them, so that was good.''
Crabb played on Toronto's first line for a significant period of time last season for various reasons, but understands he's more likely to spend time on the third or fourth line. He joked that a splendid short-handed goal he scored last season -- that highlight received ample air time on television -- momentarily made him feel like first-line material.
"It brainwashed me into thinking I'm a first liner,'' Crabb cracked.
Actually, he's taking nothing for granted. Toronto missed the playoffs last season, so a job, and an NHL paycheck, must be earned.
"I've still got to make the team,'' Crabb said. "(The contract) is obviously not a guarantee.''
Crabb has been spending the summer training in Anchorage at a facility run by Alaska Aces assistant coach Louis Mass.
Crabb last season was one of six Alaskans, all from Anchorage, who played in the NHL. Four of those players -- Crabb, Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Carle and Tampa Bay Lightning center Nate Thompson -- are all under contract for the upcoming season.
Meanwhile, New York Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky, a restricted free agent, is set for an arbitration meeting Thursday. And published reports have veteran goaltender Ty Conklin, who spent the last two seasons with the St. Louis Blues, expected to soon sign with the Detroit Red Wings, who he played for in 2008-09.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Alaskans playing in the NHL
Six Alaskans, all from Anchorage, played regularly in the NHL last season, and here are their salaries in the world’s best league in the upcoming season. New York Rangers forward and restricted free agent Brandon Dubinsky made $2 million last season, but is unsigned and slated for an arbitration hearing Thursday. Goaltender Ty Conklin, an unrestricted free agent, made $1.4 million last season with St. Louis and is reported to be close to signing with Detroit.
Player Position Team 2011-12 NHL Salary
Scott Gomez Center Montreal Canadiens $7,357,143
Matt Carle Defense Philadelphia Flyers $3,437,500
Brandon Dubinsky Center New York Rangers Arbitration Thursday
Ty Conklin Goalie Unrestricted free agent N/A
Nate Thompson Center Tampa Bay Lightning $900,000
Joey Crabb Wing Toronto Maple Leafs $750,000