A couple of months ago, when speaking to Canes Country about the upcoming season, Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said that he thought NHL players keep themselves in such good shape during the offseason that they wouldn’t need more than about a week to get ready to start the new season, and could do without preseason games to help move things along even faster.
Brind’Amour was only off by about three days, but by and large, we’re about to find out how right he was.
The Hurricanes begin their belated training camp today, and just like the season to follow, it will look considerably different than what fans - and, for that matter, the team - are used to. What follows are answers to some frequently asked questions about camp this year, as well as some more details on how this very strange season will look.
How many players are coming to camp?
The Hurricanes will have 38 players in camp, 34 skaters and four goaltenders. (The NHL is limiting teams to a maximum of 36 skaters, so the Hurricanes have a nearly full house.) Included among those are Seth Jarvis and Jamieson Rees, who just signed their ELCs last week, and a bunch of likely AHL players. The Hurricanes have four prospects playing in the World Junior championships, none of whom will be in camp (and at least two of them, Ryan Suzuki and Vasily Ponomarev, would be here otherwise).
Two notable omissions: Clark Bishop and Roland McKeown, both of whom cleared waivers last week. GM Don Waddell says that McKeown will stay in Sweden this year; there is no word yet on Bishop’s future plans (which presumably involve the AHL). Stay tuned.
When are the sessions, and can I go?
Today the players will take their physicals and pre-camp testing prior to a 2:00 team meeting at PNC Arena. All of the other on-ice activities during camp will take place at the new Wake Competition Center in Morrisville, beginning with the first camp session at 9:30 tomorrow. The players will be split into two groups, practicing at 9:30 and 11:00 each day, but we don’t know yet who is in which group.
And, to answer the other question: no, camp is closed to the public this year. Blame COVID, because typically the Hurricanes are among the most accessible NHL teams for training camp sessions and practices. Not this year, though; the Canes will, however, live stream camp on the team website. A limited number of media members will be allowed in to watch camp, but won’t have any interaction with the team in person. All media availabilities will be held over Zoom.
Since there are more than 23 players, some will be assigned to the AHL, right?
Yes, that’s the plan, but the timing will be different than usual because the AHL won’t begin play until February 5. In a normal year the AHL training camps follow about a week behind the start of NHL camps; this year, the NHL will be well into its season before the AHL gets going. In other words, it’s likely that the Max McCormicks and Joakim Ryans of the world will hang around camp longer than they typically would.
How will the salary cap work?
Generally the same as you’re used to it working, with a few different twists. The salary cap this year will be set at $81.5 million, the same as it was last year, and teams have to be cap compliant by the day before the season starts; this year, that’s January 12 at 5:00 Eastern. The players will be paid their full salary, despite the shortened season.
One big change this year, unsurprisingly, involves players who test positive for COVID during the season. In the event of a positive test, a team may move the player directly to long-term injured reserve (LTIR) without the added step of a doctor signing off on the move, a failsafe that keeps teams from gaming LTIR under normal circumstances. That means any player who tests positive can have his roster spot opened up and his salary removed from the cap for a minimum of ten games or 24 days, should the team elect to do so.
The other big change to the salary cap comes with the advent of the taxi squad, which we’ll get to in a second.
What’s the schedule going to be like?
It’s very similar to a baseball schedule. Teams will only face the teams in their division, and more often than not - although not exclusively - teams will play two games in a row against the same team in the same location. The regular season will run until May 8, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs (comprising 16 teams) will begin May 11. The Stanley Cup will be awarded no later than July 15.
The top four teams in each division will make the playoffs, and there will be no wild cards. Once the playoffs reach the third round, the NHL will re-seed the remaining teams, so teams from any two divisions could play for the Stanley Cup. (Yes, a Carolina/Washington Stanley Cup Final is possible.)
OK, so about the taxi squad...
The taxi squad is the Schrödinger’s cat of the roster this year: players on the squad will simultaneously be on and not on the NHL roster. Because of quarantine requirements surrounding players recalled from the minor leagues, not to mention the open question of whether AHL teams will actually compete this year, the NHL created the taxi squads so that teams would have a game-ready pool of players available to step in at a moment’s notice.
The four to six taxi squad players, a range established by the NHL, will be allowed to practice and, if the team desires, travel with the NHL team. Taxi squad players will be paid their AHL salaries, and will be subject to waivers if they require them for a minor-league assignment to move between the active roster and the taxi squad.
Each team must have three goaltenders available, either by having all three on the active roster or by having one on the taxi squad, at all times. If the third goalie is on the taxi squad, he must travel with the team. There will be no EBUGs this year, so the third goalie may step in regardless of any other roster regulations if his services are required.
Who’s eligible for a taxi squad assignment?
It’s the same rules as a normal minor-league assignment: any player is eligible, unless the player has a no-movement clause, as long as he clears waivers if required. But there’s one additional category of player who’s eligible this year: junior-aged players who are typically not eligible for an AHL assignment may be assigned to the taxi squad (or to the AHL itself) if their junior team is not playing. Jarvis, in particular, is impacted by this, because the WHL has not announced a date to begin play and if their season is cancelled, he may remain with the Hurricanes all season.
What about the salary cap?
On its face, the taxi squad is just an extension of the AHL salary cap rules: players will have up to $1,095,000 of their cap hit removed from the NHL team’s cap while they are on the taxi squad. This is the same rule that has been in effect for many years, preventing teams from burying high cap hits in the minors without any negative cap consequences.
But there’s a big change this season because of the fact that the taxi squad will be allowed to practice with the NHL club. Players, especially those who do not require waivers for a minor-league assignment, will be allowed to move back and forth between the taxi squad and the active roster at will, giving teams the opportunity to bank unused cap space. There will be a million paper assignments to and from the taxi squad on a daily basis, all of which will be in the service of saving a few bucks on the cap. Every dollar counts, after all.
Can players be added to and removed from the taxi squad?
Yes, they can, but it can’t happen right away. A player not on the active roster can be added to the taxi squad after a seven-day quarantine with four negative COVID tests. Players can also be removed (for example, to join the AHL team) but must follow the protocol of the league they’re joining.
Any other questions? Drop them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them!