Not that the NHL's lockout is especially convenient for any of the players set to participate in Checkers training camp this weekend, the timing stings worse for some than others.
Take veteran forward Tim Wallace for example. After spending his first five professional seasons in the minors, the 28-year-old seemed like he might have finally made his breakthrough to the NHL, playing a total of 49 games with the Islanders and Lightning to finish last season.
At least for now, he won't get the chance to build on that number.
"It's for sure frustrating," said Wallace, who has 11 points (3g, 8a) in 73 career NHL games. "I think it's frustrating for players at every level. I feel like I'm in the prime of my career, but it could be worse because I'm in a situation where I still get to play."
To that point, his loss will be Charlotte's gain. Wallace, who signed a two-way contract with Carolina as a free agent this summer, has 157 points (84g, 73a) in 328 AHL games dating back to the 2006-07 season and was producing at an especially high clip for Bridgeport (20 points in 24 games) before heading to the NHL for good in December.
In addition to his scoring touch (he finished the season with eight points in Tampa's last 18 games, including his first NHL goal at Carolina), he's also been known to mix it up on occasion, as best evidenced by his Gordie Howe Hat Trick (a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game) against Manchester on Nov. 27. His 307 career penalty minutes in the AHL make him fourth on the team behind Justin Soryal, Nicolas Blanchard and Brett Sutter.
"I like to play physical and play hard," said Wallace, a native of Anchorage, Alaska. "That's definitely part of my game, and I don't think I could have gotten this far without going to the net."
With most of the hype surrounding the Hurricanes' pre-lockout assignments heading toward the likes of Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk – young stars who otherwise would certainly be in the NHL – players like Wallace and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani represent another group of experienced players who could certainly make a claim. Gragnani, a 25-year-old who won the AHL's Defenseman of the Year award just two seasons ago, spent all of last season in the NHL with Buffalo and Vancouver.
For now, those two and players like them will return to a league in which they're comfortable and await that next opportunity to prove that they belong.
"I planned the whole year like there was going to be an NHL," said Wallace, who can play on either wing and has also spent limited time at center. "Carolina was a good fit, showed a lot of interest and my goal is to be a full-time player there, but for now I'm just going to try to keep getting better every day."