RALEIGH — 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, theres also a stark reminder at Raleigh Center Ice:
Tuomo Ruutus 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 teams most pressing needs in training camp and early in the season.
"Its going to be tough without him," Canes captain Eric Staal said. "His physicality is the biggest thing. He brings that edge to the game. Hes tough on the forecheck. When hes playing that style of game, hes tough to play against and hes 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 Ruutus injury changed the Staal-with-Staal part of the equation, Muller said.
"With Ruutu being out, I think you wont see the two of them together on the same line," Muller said. We can have a good 1-2 punch there at center.
Its 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 Staals line last season, and Jussi Jokinen has played with Skinner on the "Skins and Finns" line with Ruutu.
"Thats really a shame, to lose a guy like Ruuty," Skinner said. "Hes really helped me the last two years, playing on his line. Hopefully well have guys step up."
The Canes could bring up a forward from the Charlotte Checkers to replace Ruutu. Zach Boychuk, who leads the Carolinas 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 leagues 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 Sutters line was more of a checking line," Muller said. "Were 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."