Canes, NHL teams preparing for start of season

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 11, 2013 

— Officially, everything is on hold in the NHL until the league’s players ratify the new collective bargaining agreement.

But behind the scenes, teams are busily making plans for training camps, ticket promotions and the start of the regular season while awaiting the release of the NHL schedule.

The Carolina Hurricanes anticipate opening the regular season with a Jan. 19 road game, possibly against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. General manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday the Canes’ home opener at PNC Arena could be Jan. 22, although he could not name the opponent.

The NHL players started voting Thursday night on the 10-year CBA and can put the final stamp on a document that caused a 113-day work stoppage and a labor fight that endangered the season. The vote will be completed Saturday morning, and teams then will open training camps on Sunday – the Canes plan to have player physicals Sunday morning, then a first practice on Sunday afternoon.

The Canes must quickly decide on a roster, which Rutherford said could include “at least” six or seven players who began the season with the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s American Hockey League affiliate and have “come of age.”

Defenseman Justin Faulk, one of the NHL’s best rookies last season, will return from Charlotte. The Canes also could add either Justin Peters or Dan Ellis as a backup goalie.

Others from Charlotte that could be in the mix are defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti and forwards Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Jeremy Welsh and Tim Wallace. All have played well for the Checkers, who lead the South Division in the AHL’s Western Conference.

“For the most part, they’ve all had a taste of the NHL, most of them last year. They got their feet wet and I think they’re an eager group,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said Thursday of the Checkers players.

Muller noted the Checkers have installed systems and a style of play this season that’s identical to what he will use with the Canes, which should make the transition seamless in training camp.

Rutherford said the Canes would continue to look for a player to give the third or fourth line “a little more grit.” It’s possible Carolina could look to make an early trade, although such a trade could be simply to open up a roster spot for a Charlotte player.

The Canes expect to go through the regular season without forward Tuomo Ruutu, who recently had hip surgery. Rutherford said Ruutu probably would be replaced among the Canes’ top six forwards by one of the Checkers.

Rutherford acknowledged that many people were affected by the lengthy lockout, which he called an “unfortunate time.” He said the team has marketing promotions that will soon to be announced to help win back disgruntled fans – Rutherford said the Canes lost seven percent of its ticket base during the lockout to fans demanding refunds.

“You never know what to expect when these things happen,” Rutherford said. “In the early going of the lockout, the percentage ... was between one and two percent. As we got closer to the (Christmas) holiday season that number grew.”

Rutherford said seven percent was a “very low number” that underscored the loyalty of his ticket holders. He also said since Sunday’s announcement of a CBA agreement, the Canes had been selling “a lot” of season tickets and hoped to recoup the seven percent loss.

“We have some work to do,” Rutherford said of rebuilding the fanbase. "I view it the same way as when we first moved here (from Hartford in 1997). We had to build our fans one by one, seat by seat. If that’s what we have to do again, that’s what we’ll do."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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