NHL season expected to start Jan. 19

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 9, 2013 

  • More information Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. issued a message to Canes fans Tuesday: Dear loyal fans: Long before I was the owner of a National Hockey League franchise, I was a hockey fan. My passion for watching our great game has only grown as I’ve watched our team over the years, reaching the highest of highs when the Hurricanes brought North Carolina its first major league championship in 2006. As a fan, I understand how frustrating it is not to be able to watch your team in action. With the resolution agreed upon this weekend, we will finally have the chance to see the 2012-13 Carolina Hurricanes on the ice. I sincerely apologize for the delay, and for the hurt that it caused you as a fan. This past summer, our organization took major steps toward giving our team a better chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. Our team had a need at forward, and we were able to bring in two elite-level players to fill that need. Jordan Staal is a big, physical center who is just 24 years old and entering the prime of his career. We feel that Jordan is the perfect fit for our organization, which is why we signed him to a 10-year contract in July, ensuring he will be a fixture on the ice and in our community for a long time. Alexander Semin is one of hockey’s most talented players, and our staff did a great deal of scouting and research to get a grasp on the effect he could have in our lineup. The addition of these two high-end players to a lineup that already includes Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Cam Ward makes this an exciting time for fans of the Hurricanes, myself included. Again, I apologize for the delay to the start of the season, and thank you for your patience throughout this process. It’s time to play hockey, and I can’t wait to see what this team has in store for us this season. Sincerely, Peter Karmanos, Jr. Owner

— The NHL plans to open training camps Sunday and begin a 48-game regular season on Jan. 19, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday.

While no league announcement has been made, Daly in an email said that was the "current objective and expectation." The NHL board of governors is expected to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday, and the players will likely vote Thursday or Friday to approve the CBA.

The Carolina Hurricanes, like 29 other teams, are ready to go. But amid the excitement about having a hockey season, there’s also a stark reminder at Raleigh Center Ice:

Tuomo Ruutu’s stall in the RCI locker room sits untouched, his helmet and equipment neatly stored, unused.

The Canes will be without their rugged "sandpaper" forward for three months and possibly longer. Ruutu recently required surgery for a nagging hip ailment, and replacing him among the top six forwards will be one of the team’s most pressing needs in training camp and early in the season.

"It’s going to be tough without him," Canes captain Eric Staal said. "His physicality is the biggest thing. He brings that edge to the game. He’s tough on the forecheck. When he’s playing that style of game, he’s tough to play against and he’s kind of a momentum-builder for your team."

When the Hurricanes traded for center Jordan Staal in June, coach Kirk Muller said he might use the two Staal brothers on the same line. When Carolina then signed free-agent winger Alexander Semin, the former Washington Capitals’ sniper, there was talk of those three being on the top line.

But Ruutu’s injury changed the Staal-with-Staal part of the equation, Muller said.

"With Ruutu being out, I think you won’t see the two of them together on the same line," Muller said. “We can have a good 1-2 punch there at center.”

It’s likely Eric Staal could center the top line, with Semin on a wing. Jordan Staal would center a second line, possibly with Jeff Skinner on a wing.

Who fills in the open wing spots on the top two lines? Another question for training camp, although Jiri Tlusty did play on Eric Staal’s line last season, and Jussi Jokinen has played with Skinner on the "Skins and Finns" line with Ruutu.

"That’s really a shame, to lose a guy like ’Ruuty,’" Skinner said. "He’s really helped me the last two years, playing on his line. Hopefully we’ll have guys step up."

The Canes could bring up a forward from the Charlotte Checkers to replace Ruutu. Zach Boychuk, who leads the Carolina’s AHL affiliate in scoring this season, may be one option and there are others.

"The guys in Charlotte are game ready," Eric Staal said. "The NHL is a different level but they have been playing games. There will be an opportunity there for somebody to step in."

Despite the loss of Ruutu, Muller said he expected to be able to get solid production from the top three lines this season. There should be more balance among the lines, he said, with Jordan Staal one of the league’s best two-way forwards.

To seal the trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Staal, the Hurricanes had to part with center Brandon Sutter, one of their best defensive forwards. But the addition of Staal and then Semin, a former 40-goal scorer for the Caps, further changed the dynamics of the team, Muller said.

"The makeup of our team last year was Sutter’s line was more of a checking line," Muller said. "We’re looking at the possibility of two good lines while allowing the third line to play a little more and offer a little more offense than last year. The third line, we should get production from."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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