RALEIGH — A day after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled a blueprint for the league’s return to play, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell and captain Jordan Staal met with the media in a Zoom call to discuss the play-in series matchup with the Rangers, COVID-19 testing, player and coaching preparation, and the planned Stadium Series outdoor game scheduled for Feb. 20.
“We all want to play hockey,” Waddell said. “We all want to try to finish this season. And I think everybody’s working together to try to find the best solution for that.”
While there isn’t yet a firm date on the start of Phase 2 — when players can voluntarily return to team facilities and work out in small groups — both Staal and Waddell did give some insight into the near future.
On playing in a hub city and being separated from families:
Staal: “Yeah, that’s going to be definitely an unfortunate challenge, I guess. It’s going to be, you know, away from the families and all the other stuff that’s going to come along with it. … Guys got to make some sacrifices and the guys are willing to do it. Everyone’s ready to play and then we’ll have to do it that way.”
On the team’s injuries and the injured players’ status:
Waddell: “My update today on Brett Pesce was he’s going to see a surgeon in 10 days. He had the surgery on, I believe it was March 5. And they said it was, you know, five, six months. So if you take the calendar, it’ll be sometime probably middle of August.
“I’m not sure he’s going to be ready when the season begins or not, depending on the timing of when the season begins, but he’ll be really close. … All reports have been that (the others are) 100% ready to go. As we know, (Dougie) Hamilton’s been here and he’s been skating. He’s allowed to skate because he’s a rehab player. So we feel like we’ll be in good shape that way.”
Staal: “I think, obviously, with the injuries we get back and those (trade deadline additions) will get a few extra practices as a group, I’m feeling really confident on our team and what we can do.
“Dougie was a big hole. I think our D corps did an unbelievable job when he was out. A lot of guys stepped up and played some different roles and some key roles and play really well.
“Dougie was playing best I’ve seen him since he’s been in Carolina before he went down. It was unfortunate. … It’s going to be a big, towering defenseman that knows how to score goals and run a power play. I just actually had him over the other night, so he’s excited to get going and be a part of the group again.”
On not being able to play at home and without home-ice advantage:
Staal: “You’ve seen over the years in Carolina when the team does make playoffs, it always seems to make a push. And that goes to show what our fans can do and the way our team rallies around each other and the city.
“So it is definitely an advantage, and everyone loves their home building. So we’re no different. And we do have an extra advantage around here in Raleigh. But again, that’s just part of it. There’s not much else you can do. And that’s just the direction it’s heading right now.
“We’re going to have to find a way to make due of motivating ourselves and pushing each other as a group. I think it’s going to be the biggest thing to try to get moving forward in this future playoff.”
On expanded rosters, the preparation during the league’s pause and what’s ahead:
Waddell: “The biggest thing in front of us is preparing ourselves to play hockey in a play-in round and then playoffs. And so you want to make sure when you go out, it’s your team practicing. Saying that, there is a benefit with guys like Jake Bean, who had a tremendous year this year, and some are other younger players down there, Joey Keane, and it will be a benefit for them to be around here and we will bring in some of those guys for sure.
“But probably more important is work off-ice at that time too with Bill Burniston and really start to prepare for the start of next season and be ready in case we need some players this year. So we will use it a little bit as development, but if guys don’t have any chance of playing this year, it probably doesn’t make sense to bring them in for either side.”
Staal: “We’ve had a few group workouts and stuff like that. And then, it’s kind of whatever you can get your hands on. I quickly grabbed one of those bikes and been riding that to keep the heart rate in the right spot. And just have some dumbbells and body weight itself, and basically just doing what you can to keep yourself as best shape as you can.
“And I think talking to the group of the guys, everyone’s kind of been doing the same and doing a good job of keeping up, making sure that we’re as close as we can, 100%, when we get going. … (Strength coach Bill Burniston’s) been great. He’s helped us out a lot, and each person individually as well because everyone’s obviously got a different scenario in different situations.”
Waddell: “I do anticipate us having the opportunity to play a few exhibition games. It won’t be in your home market. It’ll probably be in the hub cities once all the teams come together, but I fully expect that we’ll be able to play a couple games.”
Staal: “It’s going to be an interesting start to this, and hopefully we get off to a great start as you’re going to have to. But you guys know better than anyone, (Coach Rod Brind’Amour) is going to do a great job of preparing for and making sure everyone’s ready, and we’ve got a pretty solid group and hopefully make a good push.
“(Brind’Amour’s) in the same boat as we are. There’s a lot of limbo. So it’s really hard to, to have anything concrete to say when there’s really still no timeline. So when there is a timeline and there’s an opportunity to have a date, knowing guys going to get together and making sure your bodies are where you need to be in your mind, that’s when the show starts.
“But right now, Roddy’s had a few calls throughout the team and stuff, but, just making sure the guys are in shape and guys are taking care of their families and taking care of each other and really just making sure that the group is still together and talking.
“And that’s what we’ve been trying to do. And, you know, our group chat has been going on pretty much daily and, the boys are already out champing at the bit whenever we do get this thing going.”
On the league’s planned coronavirus testing and safety:
Staal: “I, fortunately, haven’t had to do it or anything like that. I think it’s going to be a lot of stuff for our trainers and the day-to-day stuff for those guys and some extra work for them, which is going to be difficult.
“Just staying on top of everyone is going to be a good challenge for our training staff and the onus on your own players and making sure everyone’s safe. Yeah, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be some interesting hurdles, but if we get back on the ice, I’m sure the guys will find a way to jump through them.”
On being matched up with the Rangers — and Staal’s brother Marc — in the play-in round:
Staal: “Yeah, we’ve texted a few times here and there. It’s interesting, obviously, for our team, and they’re excited about being part of the playoffs. It’s a team that we struggled with, so it’s a great challenge for us, I think, jumping right into it and hopefully, we can do our best to find a way to win that and we’ll be feeling good.
“But it’ll be fun. I haven’t played against a brother in playoffs in a while. I know my parents hate it, but I think we’re going to enjoy it and have some fun with it.”
Waddell: “As Jordan said, we have a coach that there won’t be any stone … unturned. He’ll be prepared. The day that they walk in training camp, he’s going to be prepared for playing the Rangers. There’s no doubt. We know how Roddy thinks of things and how he does things — he does it the right way. He’s already working out, we had a conversation earlier this morning about it.
“There’s no home-ice advantage. Getting up in the series early is going to be important, but that’s why playing the best out of five. Hopefully, the better team wins those kinds of series. You do have upsets … but I’m confident, as Jordan said, with the group of guys we had here and getting a guy like Dougie back that we’re going to be in a good position to take that next step.”
On what training camp might look like:
Waddell: “I think that’s being talked about between the NHL and the union right now. You know, you’re probably someplace on a normal training camp that’s 17 to 20 days. The difference here is 20 days of regular training camp, you’re playing five or six exhibition games. You won’t have that this year, so maybe you can cut that down a few days because players get tired of practicing. Let’s face it, they get tired of the same routine, and your exhibition games break it up.
“But if you’re only gonna play one or two exhibition games, you could probably cut it down a little bit. But it’s important that we get back in the space too, back on the ice. … So whether it’s 17 days, 20 days, we’ll be ready to roll.”
On the team employees who were furloughed due to the pandemic and the status of next year’s Stadium Series game at Carter-Finley Stadium:
Waddell: “As far as employees, we have brought back some people in the last few weeks, we got a lot going on with our practice facility closing in.
We know we’re not going to be playing here, here in Raleigh. We’re not going to have to bring back most of the people that are furloughed immediately.
“Every week we’ve changed — it’s been some people coming back, some people going off. It just depends on what the demands are of the business. So we’re making those decisions every week.
“As far as the outdoor game, we’re planning. We had three calls last week: one on the jersey, one on ticketing and one on sponsorship. Usually, there’s three calls a week about the outdoor game. We’re moving forward right now that it’s gonna happen as we selected the date (Feb. 20) last year. And until somebody tells us differently, we’re going to continue to work to make sure we put this thing together that we showcase Raleigh and the Triangle area as best we can.”
On the team’s negotiations with the Charlotte Checkers — and, reportedly, the Chicago Wolves — on the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliation:
Waddell: “We currently are still in negotiations. We’re hoping by next week we will have our final resolution. But it is something that is front and center as we speak. You must have been listening to my phone — I just got off a conference call about it a half-hour ago. So it is front and center.”