It’s been a busy first week of Phase 3 for the Carolina Hurricanes. Here are the highlights.
1. Forslund out
The biggest news out of Carolina Hurricanes camp is off the ice. The team announced Thursday that the local broadcast of the play-in series with the New York Rangers — and an exhibition game with the Washington Capitals — would go on without John Forslund, the franchise’s longtime play-by-play voice who has been with the team since its Hartford days.
Owner Tom Dundon is surely hoping the outrage of seemingly letting Forslund walk will wear off as it did when he couldn’t come to terms with Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton nearly two years ago. The owner looks to be banking on fans being more concerned with a winning product than holding on to arguably the best play-by-play voice in the game. After all, local TV and radio rights aren’t a windfall for the team, and if the team is winning and the arena experience — when allowed to resume — keeps people coming back to PNC Arena, it’s a good bet there won’t be a drop in team interest.
Still, there’s something to be said for the entire package Forslund brings to an organization.
“Johnny’s been great, love him, and [a] huge part of the history of this group,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday upon hearing the news that Forslund would not be calling games for the team the rest of the season. “And, you know, Tripp [Tracy, the color commentator who re-signed to a contract structure Forslund would not agree to] and him are a special pair. It’s part of what this team has been about for a long time and represent us really well. So that’s tough to hear.”
While the team says the door is open for Forslund’s return and he hasn’t signed elsewhere yet — he’ll work for NBC on national broadcasts — it’s hard to see him coming to an agreement with the team after last year’s difficult negotiations that led to a one-year deal were followed up with even more contentious talks this time around.
2. Maniscalco in
That said, the choice to replace Forslund in the booth this postseason, on-the-glass reporter Mike Maniscalco, is nearly or as beloved by fans as the departing broadcaster.
It’s big shoes to fill for Maniscalco, but like the team simulcasted Forslund’s call to the radio to ease the transition away from Kaiton, picking Maniscalco should lead to most rooting for him to succeed despite the sting of Forslund’s absence.
“If Mike’s filling in or taking over; Mike’s awesome,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s a Hurricane. I wanna see him do so well because he’s such a deserving guy. And, again, a guy everybody loves around here. So, you know, hopefully they work out, and I know they will.”
Abby Labar will take over for Maniscalco hosting the pre- and postgame shows with Shane Willis during the exhibition and play-in series. It will be an audition for both Maniscalco and Labar. The former is excited about the opportunity to move into the play-by-play role, while Labar previously filled for Maniscalco as the in-game reporter and show host when he was recovering from surgery in the fall for the removal of a benign abdominal tumor.
3. More off-ice angst
I couldn’t help but think of newly acquired defenseman Brady Skjei throughout this pandemic shutout. Skjei, acquired from the Rangers on Feb. 24, was in Manhattan for the majority of the shutdown with his fiancee, Gracia, who is a nurse at NYU.
“She’s been working at NYU in the mother-baby unit,” Skjei said. “It’s been pretty wild. The first months of when the season got canceled, the first month and a half, were pretty wild in New York. She’s healthy, and the hospital did a great job of keeping nurses safe, and a ton of kind of credit to her and all of her co-workers for what they were doing during this time.”
Gracia is still working at NYU, where the couple owns an apartment, and Skjei also spent time in his home state of Minnesota and skated there with other players.
Then there’s Skjei’s familiarity with the Rangers. Drafted by the team in 2012 and playing more than 300 games for New York, the defenseman has knowledge the Hurricanes can tap into for their upcoming five-game play-in series with the Rangers.
“I don’t wanna give away too much, but we’ve talked to Brady a little bit, so we’ll definitely use him as a resource here when we start dialing up more talking about our opponent,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re still [in] the phase of getting our game to what we need to do, but starting next week, we’ll definitely pick his brain. … He was just there, he’s been in their system for a long time. So that’s in the works.”
And Skjei would certainly love sticking it to his old team.
“I’ve got a ton of a ton of motivation with a chip on my shoulder going into this playoff series,” he said.
4. “100% acclimated”
Another player who was just getting his feet wet with the team when the league stopped play is center Vincent Trocheck. The 27-year-old had a goal and an assist in seven games with Carolina after being acquired from Florida at the trade deadline but now feels like he has a better grasp on the Hurricanes’ systems.
“Well, I think this time off has actually helped me more than the time that I played,” Trocheck said Wednesday. “Just being able to watch the video and learn the systems a little bit better, I think that’s kind of helped me over the last few months to kind of get more acclimated with the team’s style play. The first seven games, obviously, coming from a different team, you’re going to have a little bit of confusion, different systems, different styles of play. So, definitely took a little bit of adjusting, but I think now I’m a 100% acclimated.”
Brind’Amour said the Hurricanes’ systems are pretty different from other teams, so the film work and this camp should help Trocheck and the other newcomers.
“You could tell he was a little unsure in that seven-game span, but … he did a little work on the video over the break that we had,” Brind’Amour said of Trocheck. “This two weeks will help him a lot. Him, Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen really should benefit from this just because it’s a little more time and reps and discussion on how things work.”
5. No Bubble Boy
This one’s about me. I won’t be traveling to the NHL’s bubbles in Toronto or Edmonton. While the Professional Hockey Writers Association has done everything possible to help its members to make traveling to bubble possible, the benefits of being at the hub cities certainly don’t outweigh the costs.
Reporters coming from the U.S. will be subject to Canada’s 14-day quarantine, meaning it would cost thousands of dollars just to get to the hub before you can really do much of anything — and then the usual costs of being there start. Plus, the on-site reporters will only have one advantage: they’ll be at the live games. All interviews will still be done by Zoom and the media will not have face-to-face access to players or coaches.
So, like fans and even play-in series broadcasters, I’ll be watching at home. That said, I will have access to and the ability to ask questions during the postgame Zoom interviews. I also won’t be tweeting out things before you see them on TV since we’ll all be on delay together. Despite the disappointment involved in all of this mess, I’m glad the league, Hurricanes and PHWA have found a way to involve as much media as possible. The Hurricanes’ PR staff has done a great job thus far given the circumstances with access to players and Brind’Amour, and I don’t expect anything less going forward.