The long wait for the NHL and NHLPA to settle their labor dispute may be over, but that’s only served to increase the level of anticipation in Charlotte.
With the Carolina Hurricanes still in the process of deciding how many and which players to invite to their training camp – a call that will hinge on yet-to-be-determined start dates to the NHL season – the Checkers’ top players have yet to hear about whether or not they’ll be making the short drive to Raleigh.
“I heard the lockout ended, and that’s about it,” said team scoring leader Zach Boychuk.
“I keep having to tell my dad when he asks that I haven’t heard anything,” said Zac Dalpe, who has three goals in his last two games. “When I do, he’ll be the first to know, and then everybody else.”
A quiet few days shouldn’t be considered bad news by any stretch, as the Canes, barring any future transactions that might bring new players into the fold via free agency or trades, will need the extra bodies. As it stands now, it looks as though they may need two forwards, one defenseman and one goaltender to add to their opening-night roster.
That fact isn’t lost those still practicing with the Checkers this week, though they’re doing their best to concentrate on the task at hand.
“I can tell you that everyone here wants to go, and I’m one of those guys that’s playing out every scenario in my head,” said Boychuk. “I think a lot of guys are losing sleep over it, but if you do that you’re wasting time.”
“I don’t even know when camp is, so how can I think about the possibility of going up?” said Dalpe. “Right now I’m taking it day by day, and if I get that call then great, but right now I’m in Charlotte and that’s all that’s on my mind.”
The emotions involved are certainly different, but coach Jeff Daniels will also have a lot riding on the timing and nature of the Hurricanes’ invite decisions. With the team set to play three road games on three consecutive nights starting Friday, it’s possible that he may need to execute a mini-overhaul of his team in just a few days’ time.
The Checkers have already been beset by injuries, with four players out of the lineup for their last game on Sunday. A one-game suspension to Brett Sutter brings the potential number of absences to five, regardless of NHL camp invites.
“Every coach in the league is going through that right now,” said Daniels, whose next two opponents –Oklahoma City and Houston – have already lost a handful of star players to the NHL. “We have a three-in-three coming up and we’re already at the minimum number, so we’ll for sure have to bring some players up if that happens.
“We’re fortunate to have guys on contract in Florida and we have the flexibility to bring them up.”
Players in the ECHL currently signed with either Carolina at the NHL level or Charlotte at the AHL level are forwards Matt Beca, A.J. Jenks, David Rutherford and Brody Sutter; defensemen Beau Schmitz and Joe Sova; and goalies Rob Madore and John Muse. The Checkers would also be free to go outside that group and sign another player to a tryout contract like they did with Bobby Raymond two weeks ago.
Unless one of Nicolas Blanchard and Justin Soryal is able to return this weekend – neither participated in Tuesday’s power skating session – one forward recall will be necessary to offset Sutter’s ban for boarding Jordan Hendry during Sunday’s game in Raleigh.
With reports from around the league now suggesting that camps could start anytime between Saturday and Monday, it remains to be seen whether the inevitable flurry of transactions would need to happen before or after the Checkers’ upcoming road trip.
In either case, plenty of people will be waiting by their phones, just in case.