The Carolina Hurricanes were one of the last teams to kick off their preseason schedule, but now after playing five games in eight days (the schedule originally called for six), the team will play the waiting game once again as they await the start of the regular season on Oct. 12 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
And with that surplus of time, one of the things head coach Rod Brind’Amour is worried about is his team losing the edge they gained from playing actual games.
“That’s a little bit of a concern,” Brind’Amour said. “Everyone comes in in camp-shape and I think they just need one game and can then go play. They come in in-shape, they come in ready to play. So yeah, I do worry. It’s been about two to three weeks now and I think we could have played after three or four days of this. I think that’s the same for every team. I think guys take care of themselves. ”
But the one positive aspect of this long break is that it gives the team more time to decide on who will be making the final roster cut.
The Hurricanes currently have 25 players on their active roster, and with Max Pacioretty heading for IR once the season starts, there will need to be, at the very least, one more cut to meet the 23-man roster limit as well as maximizing the LTIR that Jake Gardiner’s contract will provide.
“We’re just moving forward with this as our group,” Brind’Amour said. “If we have to make decisions, we have to make decisions, but we’ve got some time here. You can tell who’s out here. These are the guys that are going to play minus maybe a guy here or there, but at some point, they’re all going to be part of it. Just getting everybody ready is what we’re trying to do.”
One of the areas to address is the status of Derek Stepan. The 32-year old center entered training camp on a PTO and is still without a contract at this point. After a strong showing in the preseason, and the fact that he was still centering the fourth line in practice, signs point to him being signed.
“I haven’t really discussed anything about that,” Brind’Amour said when asked whether there was a contract in work. “He’s here and that’s the way I’m approaching it. If they work something out, they work something out, but I haven’t really had any discussions with management about it yet.”
However, according to Chip Alexander of the News and Observer, it seems that the Hurricanes do indeed intend to sign Stepan to a contract.
Canes’ Don Waddell says he thinks Derek Stepan will be signed. “It’s just a matter of figuring out the roster for Monday and the cap for Monday”— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) October 6, 2022
Past Stepan, the others potentially battling for a roster spot in the forward group include Jack Drury, Stefan Noesen and Jordan Martinook.
The one thing though, is that Drury can be sent down to the AHL without having to go through waivers and after a blasé preseason, that option seems most likely. That puts the contest for the final opening night roster spot squarely between Noesen and Martinook.
Noesen is the defending AHL scoring title holder, scoring 48 goals last season, and has had a much stronger preseason showing, but Martinook has been a part of the team for four seasons now and has been an alternate captain.
The decision isn’t as clear cut and black and white as it seems either.
“It just depends on what’s missing,” Brind’Amour said on how he plans to make the final decisions. “If we’re missing [something on special teams] that probably gives a guy a leg up or not. There’s other attributes you’ve gotta fill and we want to have everything covered as a group. Those will be things we really have to dial in here as we get closer.”
On the defensive side of the roster, the answers are much clearer however, as two candidates have really pulled ahead of the rest.
After coming in on a PTO, Calvin de Haan earned a one-year contract, thereby basically stamping his spot on the roster and Dylan Coghlan had an offensive explosion in the preseason as a power play quarterback and was solid defensively as well.
The pair started playing together later in the preseason and are paired in practice as well, symbolizing the current leaning of the coaching staff.
Jalen Chatfield has played well, but not as good as the other two and due to his two-year, second year one-way contract, he has a solid chance of passing through waivers if the Canes elect to send him back to the Chicago Wolves to get steady playing time as a top pairing defenseman.
That leaves Ethan Bear as arguably the weakest defenseman through camp and the preseason. Will the Canes manage to poach an asset for him by pitting some teams higher in the waiver wire against each other or will he be gone for nothing? Only time will tell, but at this point, he is the one most likely to be cut.
All the Hurricanes can do is wait and see how the pieces fall into place as they try to polish up as many aspects as they can in the time they have.
“It’s just having time to get to everything we want to discuss,” Brind’Amour said. “To cross your ‘t’s and dot your ‘i’s and just make sure we’ve at least touched on things so there’s no gaps when we get going. Obviously repetition is one way to hammer things home, but we want to make sure we’ve covered everything we need to.”