At practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Carolina Hurricanes had 25 players on the ice – 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders.
A game-night roster features 20 players – typically 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders – and NHL stipulations cap teams’ roster sizes at 23.
It’s evident, then, that changes are coming – and soon. And it’s not just as simple as assigning players to Charlotte.
So, which position might be affected by seemingly inevitable roster decisions?
The defense, likely, is safe.
“Eight healthy defensemen, I’d be very pleased with,” said Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford.
Having eight healthy defensemen is a scenario on the horizon. Mike Komisarek, who has missed five games with a lower-body injury, is practicing with the team and is eligible to be activated from injured reserve at any time. Brett Bellemore, a mainstay of the team’s defense for much of the season, is also practicing with the team after missing six games with a concussion. Both could be listed as healthy in the very near future.
The possibility of having 14 healthy forwards, then, could pose an interesting dilemma.
“It’s the number of forwards we have,” Rutherford said. “At that point in time, it could force a decision.”
Should the Hurricanes loan rookie forward Elias Lindholm to Sweden for the World Junior Championship, a roster decision could be delayed by a few weeks. But don’t expect to see Lindholm, who spent six games with the Checkers in November, put in another AHL stint.
“I don’t think with the way Lindholm has played that he would be an option to send down,” Rutherford said. “He’s played good enough to play here, certainly in our top 12, if not our top nine. We would have to make some kind of other roster move.”
No other forward on the Hurricanes’ roster could be assigned to Charlotte without having to clear waivers. Defenseman Ryan Murphy is the only other waiver-safe player on the team’s roster, and the Canes seem comfortable keeping Murphy with the big club.
Then there is the goaltending.
Despite the fact that Justin Peters is on a one-way contract (meaning he makes the same amount of money whether he plays in the NHL or AHL), the Canes are not likely to keep three goaltenders on their roster for much longer for the simple fact that it would eat into skater depth.
Other scenarios are played out here, with the most likely being a trade in the near future, as Rutherford has opted – smartly, considering his body of work in the last month – not to test the waiver wire with Peters.
Anton Khudobin, who has missed 28 games with an ankle injury suffered on Oct. 13 against Phoenix, has been practicing with the team for a few weeks. Muller said the goaltender has been medically cleared, but between Peters and Cam Ward, it’s going to be near impossible – barring injury, of course – for Khudobin to see the nets with the Canes in the coming weeks.
“The tough thing is having enough time with our schedule … to give them all the proper amount of time in net they need, for example, for him missing all this time to be able to jump into a game right now. That’s the toughest thing,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’re trying to balance it here. Petey has been the one playing, and he has to stay sharp. Cam needs the net to work on a few things. So you’ve got to keep those two sharp.”
“He’s closer to being able to play,” Rutherford said of Khudobin. “Cam is one of our goalies, and Justin has played extremely well. He’s gotten points for this team, so at this point in time, those are the two guys.”
There exists the option to send Khudobin to Charlotte for a conditioning stint, a move that would not require waivers, but one to which the 27-year-old would have to agree.
“We’re certainly not going to hurry any decisions because we found out last year what a shortage of goalies does to a team,” Rutherford said. “We’ll take our time with a decision.”
Though the options – some enticing and some not so much – are many, the situation is clear: barring additional injuries, the Hurricanes will likely have to shrink their roster by a couple of players in the very near future.
“I think the big thing is to be honest with all three (goaltenders). It’s kind of similar to the rest of our team right now where there’s a lot of competition, whether it’s defense or forwards,” he said. “The numbers game is clear right there.”