With schedule uncertain, 'Canes prep for regular season
Posted January 10, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Despite not having complete details about which teams they will play and where they will play them, the Carolina Hurricanes are feverishly preparing for what will likely be a 48-game regular season once the NHL and players’ union ratify a new collective bargaining agreement.
General manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Kirk Muller said Thursday those preparations are going well and that the Canes will be prepared to compete once the lockout-shortened season does begin.
"The games really are like playoff games because there is no lull in the season," Rutherford said. "We're excited, we think we're better with the changes we've made and we're excited to get started."
Reports indicate the season could start as early as Jan. 19, which would mean a road game for the Hurricanes if they open up play on the first day of the season. PNC Arena hosts a rodeo event the evening of Jan. 19.
"It's all tentative at this point because players have to ratify the agreement," Rutherford said. "We're hoping it's ratified and that camp could start Sunday with physicals and a skate later in the day."
Once the 'Canes are on the ice, head coach Kirk Muller said he's excited to coach new additions Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, two players that he says set the team up well to be better than it was a season ago.
"Adding Jordan Staal gives us a different dimension, because we could use the Staal brothers at center on the first and second line," he said. "We had great momentum last year to finish the season, and if we can get that momentum going again we're a better team on paper than we finished the season."
Semin, who was acquired by Carolina from the Washington Capitals in July, could help the Hurricanes in specialty situation, Muller said.
"We're excited to coach Semin, I saw enough of him coaching against him," Muller said. "He's a big body, and he's a guy that's capable of making a difference in close games. Not only in 5-on-5, but in shootouts and 4-on-4. He can make us a better hockey club."
As for winning back a fanbase that just endured its second lockout in less than 10 years, Rutherford said the Canes will have work to do early in the season. Rutherford said the team did see a decline in season ticket holders during the 113-day work stoppage.
"As we got closer to the holiday, the number of people canceling season tickets grew," he said. "Since the tentative deal has been announced, we've been selling a lot of tickets. I hope we can gain back that 7 percent and maybe more."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman secured unanimous support for the pending labor deal Wednesday, then apologized to everyone hurt by the long lockout and said he isn’t going anywhere.
The league's board of governors met in a Manhattan hotel Wednesday and overwhelmingly approved the agreement that was reached early Sunday on the 113th day of the lockout.
"Most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I am sorry," Bettman said. "I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months, but I owe you an apology nevertheless.
"As commissioner of the National Hockey League it sometimes falls upon me to make tough decisions that disappoint and occasionally anger players and fans. This was a long and extremely difficult negotiation — one that took a lot longer than anybody wanted. I know it caused frustration, disappointment and even suffering to a lot of people who have supported the National Hockey League in many different ways."
Players are expected to vote on the deal Friday and Saturday. If a majority of the more than 700 members in good standing agree to the terms, training camps can open Sunday. A 48-game season is likely to begin Jan. 19.
The NHL and the union are still drafting a memorandum of understanding that must be signed before training camps open.
The players' association wants as much of the document as possible to be completed before voting begins.
The union is busy calling players and agents to educate them about the changes and additions to the agreement. The vote will be done electronically.