Category 5: Understanding the Hurricanes roster situation amid Covid chaos

Who was recalled, why and what to expect going forward

Hurricanes forward Jack Drury, right, celebrates his goal with teammates Jamieson Rees (81) and Stefan Noesen (29) during a pre season game in September. Drury will make his NHL debut Thursday, while Noesen will suit up for his first game with Carolina. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — We’ve officially entered unchartered waters. The Hurricanes, besieged by positive COVID-19 tests, will only dress 16 skaters tonight — two fewer than normal — to play through one of the many coronavirus outbreaks that are circulating around the NHL. Let’s try and understand things a little better.

Category 1

Tonight’s home game against Detroit will serve as, for lack of a better term, punishment for the Hurricanes being so close to the cap. That said, the NHL is allowing Carolina some flexibility.

The Hurricanes have six players — five forwards (Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov and Steven Lorentz) and defenseman Ian Cole — in the league’s COVID-19 protocol and had enough room under the salary cap to call up one player. They also have two injured players, Jordan Martinook and Jalen Chatfield. Chatfield, with both Brett Pesce and Tony DeAngelo returning to the lineup tonight from their COVID quarantine, was moved to injured reserve to free a roster spot, and Martinook has been out since getting hurt in the Ottawa game Dec. 2.

That left Carolina with the ability to have a cap-compliant roster with six defensemen and eight forwards — 14 total skaters compared to the usual 18. The CBA calls for teams to play one game shorthanded before they are allowed to recall players to fill the empty spots without them costing against the cap.

The NHL made a tweak for tonight’s game so the Hurricanes wouldn’t be short four players, immediately granting them two emergency exceptions. They will get two more emergency exceptions starting with Saturday’s home game against the Kings.

Category 2

All right, but who can be called up?

First, let’s look at the league’s Roster Emergency Exception rules. The first thing to understand is teams can only recall players whose average annual value — not to be confused with cap hit — are at or below the NHL’s minimum salary plus $100,000. So for this season, that means $850,000.

This is why Andrew Poturalski was recalled for the Minnesota game (that never happened), reassigned to AHL Chicago, and is back for tonight’s game.

Poturalski meets the requirement to be recalled as an emergency exception because his AAV is only $750,000. Jack Drury — we’ll have more on him making his NHL debut further down — can’t be recalled with the exception because his AAV is $925,000, so he was the one player the Hurricanes recalled — as the 14th skater — in a normal fashion to help fill all the holes.

The other emergency exception recall is journeyman Stefan Noesen, who also has an AAV of $750,000. So if you were clamoring for Jamieson Rees, David Cotton, Stelio Mattheos or Dominik Book to make their NHL debuts in the coming week or so, that’s only happening if one is recalled in place of Drury since all three have an AAV higher than $850,000.

You can expect two of Josh Leivo, C.J. Smith or Maxim Letunov — all at $750,000 — to be called up to fill the two other forward spots when the Kings play in Raleigh on Saturday. Max Lajoie could also be one of two recalled if Carolina opted to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

The caveat: Everything could change if an injury occurs or more players test positive.

Category 3

Those howls of despair you hear aren’t just from the Hurricanes coaches and front office. Teams around the league that have already been forced to play through COVID outbreaks are surely watching closely as the league is forced to deal with the surge in cases on the fly.

It seems unfair — to both players, teams and fans — that teams are being forced to play with just 16 skaters.

“What can I say about that? I just say I agree with you,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said sheepishly when I asked him just that, surely hyper-aware of his recent heavy-handed fine from the league.

DeAngelo, who returns to the lineup tonight, also wasn’t interested in weighing in.

“I’m not going to say much about this,” DeAngelo said. “I’m probably the last person they want to hear from. So I’ll sit out of that one.”

Category 4

Let’s finally jump to the ice (which is freshly painted for tonight, by the way).

Drury will make his NHL debut tonight. I jokingly asked him if this was exactly how he dreamed as a kid his recall to the big club would happen.

“I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but it’ll still be fun,” the 2018 second-round pick said.

Jokes aside, Drury had a great training camp and is off to a good start with Chicago in his first pro season in North America. He has seven goals and nine assists in 23 games — including a two-goal, one-assist night Sunday’s win over in Texas.

“What better opportunity are you going to have than the amount of ice you’re going to get tonight?” Brind’Amour said of the players getting a shot to play tonight. “It’s not ideal, we get it. But there’s no point in focusing on that. I think you focus on the positive stuff that it’s such a great opportunity to show your stuff.”

Drury is the son of former NHLer Ted and nephew of Chris, who is GM of the Rangers and also played more than 1,000 NHL games. Any good first game stories from his family?

“I don’t even know what happened to my dad’s,” Drury said of father Ted’s debut. “But I think for him back then, it was a lot less of a big deal with social media and everything. I don’t think anyone even knows when his first game was.”

For the record, Ted’s debut was Oct. 5, 1993, with the Flames, a 2-1 win over Islanders. He got his first point, an assist, in his second NHL game. Drury’s family and a college friend will be in PNC Arena for his debut.

“I’m just excited to have my family here tonight and hopefully do what I can to help the team win,” he said.

Poturalski leads the AHL in scoring with 12 goals and 22 assists in 23 games — six points ahead of teammate Smith, who ranks second. Noesen is seventh (10-14-24) in the league. He has played more than 200 games in his NHL career, while Smith (14) and Poturalski (2) have gotten a taste of the NHL previously.

Category 5

What would normally be the big storyline of tonight’s game is instead an afterthought — Alex Nedeljkovic returning to Raleigh to face his old team. Nedeljkovic, drafted in the second round by Carolina in 2014, got his first prolonged NHL action last season and was spectacular. He finished third in Calder Trophy voting and had a 15-5-3 record with a .932 save percentage and 1.90 goals-against average for the Hurricanes.

Carolina, however, wasn’t sold on his long-term prospects and dealt him to the Wings for a third-round pick, opting instead to sign Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta in the offseason.

It’s a move that appears to have benefited both teams. Carolina’s goaltending has been among the league’s best — led by Andersen, who will start tonight and is 9-0-1 in his career vs. Detroit — while Nedeljkovic is 9-6-3 with a respectable .918 save percentage and 2.71 goals-against average.

“We loved Alex, there’s no secret there,” Brind’Amour said of Nedelkjovic. “I’ve known him for a long time, (he’s) been in the organization forever and was just a real good soldier for us. … But business is business, and we also understand that too.

“Happy for him, for sure, that he’s found a home there and that he’s doing well.”

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he’d wait on solidifying his lineup until he knows if the team is in the clear after afternoon test results come in. Detroit had two players, Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen, enter the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol yesterday.

That said, it sounds like Nedeljkovic will get the start.

“When you get traded, you want an opportunity to play that team again,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Wednesday of considering giving Nedeljkovic the start against his old team.