It seems fitting that the NHL, coming off another work stoppage that pushed the limits of fan loyalty, would choose to hold their 48-game season in 99 days. No modern player is as beloved as Wayne Gretzky, and with one of his former teams coming off its first Stanley Cup crown it seems fitting — even if coincidental — that the only number retired NHL-wide would play a part in the league's return.
The Carolina Hurricanes will not have to kick off their season with an six-game road trip, as was planned in the original 82-game schedule, but that doesn't mean the path will be easy. Here's some interesting facts from the 48-game slate.
• After opening the season with four of six at home, the Hurricanes will embark on a season-long six-game road trip in early February. That includes two trips to Philadelphia, a couple stops in Canada (Toronto and Ottawa), and two games on Long Island and in New Jersey. The Canes are one of just three Eastern Conference teams with a six-game or more road trip: Ottawa plays seven on the road in April before returning home to face Carolina; and Philadelphia, like the Hurricanes, has a six-game trip in February. Six Western Conference teams will face such a plight, including Edmonton (NHL-high nine game excursion in February and March) and Columbus (two different six-game trips).
• There might not be a tougher run for the Hurricanes than the five games they play in eight days in mid-April. That stretch will see them play: vs. the Rangers in Raleigh April 6; at Boston on April 8, home; vs. Pittsburgh on April 9; in Washington April 11; and finally home against Boston April 13. Those three opponents averaged nearly 103 points last season.
• Carolina plays just three Southeast opponents in its final 12 games. The team's final Southeast game will be April 21 at Tampa Bay (Game No. 45), and Carolina's final home divisional tilt is April 4, also against the Lightning (Game No. 36).
On The Ice
• The Hurricanes open the 2012-13 season (shouldn't we instead call it just 2013?) in Florida, and don't be surprised if the teams' two new tough guys — Kevin Westgarth and George Parros — decide to kick the season off with their gloves off. The duo has fought five times against each other as professionals — three times in the preseason and on back-to-back nights in a home-and-home between Anaheim and Los Angeles in 2011 — with them splitting the matchups 1-1-3 (according to the voting at hockeyfights.com). Both went to Princeton, with Westgarth taking over as the Tigers' physical presence in 2003-04 after Parros graduated the year before. They were also key parts in the NHLPA's side in labor negotiations.
• Carolina has 13 former first-rounders currently on the roster (including injured Tuomo Ruutu), five of which were top-10 picks: Eric Staal (2nd overall in 2003); Jordan Staal (2nd overall in 2006); Joni Pitkanen (4th overall in 2002); Jeff Skinner (7th in 2010); and Ruutu (9th in 2001). Four Players (Chad LaRose, Tim Wallace, Jeremy Welsh and Westgarth) were undrafted.
• For those wondering, Evgeny Dadonov — who was acquired last season by the Hurricanes, but opted to play in the KHL this season — is Donbass HC's leading scorer with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 42 games. That roster included NHLers Alexei Ponikarovsky (5-13-18 in 32 GP) and Ruslan Fedotenko (8-10-18 in 33 GP). Oskar Osala, who went to the KHL prior to last season, has 10 goals and six assists in 33 games this year for Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik. Goalie Mike Murphy also signed in the KHL last summer, but was released from his contract with Moscow Spartak after a 1-5 start that saw him boast a 4.34 goals-against average and .877 save percentage. He is currently not playing. All three are still Hurricanes property should they return to North America.
• Kirk Muller has initially paired Pitkanen and Justin Faulk together, surely in an effort to get both as much as time as possible. With Joe Corvo back and slotted to play with longtime D partner Tim Gleason, Muller decided to break up the familiar pairings of Faulk-Jay Harrison and Pitkanen-Jamie McBain. Both Bobby Sanguinetti and Ryan Murphy are wild cards, but don't be surprised if Sanguinetti pushes McBain for that third-pairing job.
• Newcomer Jordan Staal averaged just 1:59 per game on the power play with Pittsbugh last season, but also only managed seven man-advantage points — just two fewer than the five shorthanded points he had in 2011-12. In fact, the younger Staal has never had more than seven power play points in a season. Is relying on him to be a big-time point producer a mistake? Maybe and maybe not. While his numbers are far from gaudy, Jordan showed an ability to finish in different ways last season. His five extra-man goals included finishing off a 2-on-1, scoring twice from the slot, and scoring twice down low. Given more of an opportunity, he could top his previous high even in a shortened season.