As both the President and General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, Don Waddell is in a constant state of motion, as the duality of his role forces him to straddle both the hockey and business sides of the organization.
It's been two weeks since the National Hockey League and its Players' Association announced an agreement for a 56-game regular season, and even with a couple of holidays in the time since, you can imagine how frantic Waddell's juggling act has become.
If he's not on the phone with one of the other 30 general managers in the league or chatting with his hockey staff, he's probably on a Microsoft Teams meeting or a conference call with vice presidents on the business side.
Waddell and the Canes are dissecting the roster options for this season, preparing for an expansion draft that will take place in seven months and navigating a pair of high-profile contract extensions with the challenge of a flat salary cap. There's a 54-page COVID-19 protocol form the league, in addition to another 13-page document on travel for the upcoming season. The early holiday news also kicked the business side of the organization into high gear, as various departments prepare for and adapt to the challenges ahead.
In between one phone call and a quick chat in another office down the hall on the fourth floor of PNC Arena, I briefly caught up with Waddell to set the stage for training camp.
With a smaller group of 38 players in town, just eight days of two-group skates and no exhibition games, training camp is going to look and feel a little different this year. Maybe most notable is that, with minimal offseason movement in either direction, the Canes' roster is basically set.
TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE & ROSTER
"I don't want to ever shut the door on any new players because you just don't know what's going to happen," Waddell said. "We may move some guys around during camp to get a look at them and make a decision on who stays and who goes."
With so little lead time before the regular season begins, the Canes figure to have a slight advantage given they're returning essentially the same team that was in the bubble four months ago.
"You really only have eight days to prepare, and that's why Roddy wants to basically have the team we had last year," Waddell said. "It's a benefit that these guys all know the system and how Roddy wants to play."
Though the active roster limit remains 23 players for the upcoming season, each team will carry a "taxi squad" to help combat an emergency situation in which COVID-19 forces a number of players out of the lineup. This group will be comprised of four to six players, one of which will have to be a third goaltender if a team does not carry three goalies on its active roster (sorry, EBUGs). The taxi squad will practice with the NHL team at home and could travel with the team, as needed.
"From there, you have a lot of freedom between what type of players you carry," Waddell said. "With us, our plan will probably be to carry two forwards, two defensemen and a goalie if we decide to put one there. We'll see how camp goes and make sure we don't have any injuries or things like that, and then we'll make a decision of who else we'll put on there."
Could someone like Seth Jarvis, Jamieson Rees or Ryan Suzuki (when the World Juniors are over) join the taxi squad? Yes, and from a developmental standpoint, that could be beneficial. Then again, the taxi squad needs to be NHL-ready just in case they're needed - it's essentially a recall from the American Hockey League without the need to arrange last-minute travel and then proceed through quarantine protocols.
"We have to make sure when we go on this first road trip of four games that you have bodies that can jump right into the lineup," Waddell said. "You have to make sure you have enough depth on your taxi squad to support what you need at the NHL level."
The Canes' 2020-21 schedule is a quirky 56-game slate, fitting for what figures to be a quirky season. As the league aims to limit travel as much as possible, which should help curb potential spread of COVID-19, the Canes will play 26 two-game series (and four one-off games) against their seven Central Division opponents.
BREAKING DOWN THE 2020-21 SCHEDULE
It's a format that Waddell would like to see explored more in the future.
"We think it's better for our athletes and even creates more rivalries within teams," he said.
Fans in the Building
The Canes and PNC Arena are among the vast majority of the NHL that will begin the 2020-21 season with no fans in attendance.
"We will continue to work closely with health officials to navigate the safest return to hosting fans and hope to have fans at our home games later this season," the team said in a statement on Dec. 21.
"We all see what's going on in our country, and it doesn't make any sense right now for us to push that pedal," Waddell said. "I think it's critical that we're prepared. If we do get a chance to expand how many fans come in here, we want to show everybody that we can do it in a safe environment."
Defenseman Roland McKeown and forward Clark Bishop, who both re-signed one-year, two-way contracts this offseason, cleared waivers last week. Neither player will take part in training camp, and since both require waivers to be assigned elsewhere, the Canes filed those transactions.
McKeown has been loaned to Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League, and Waddell said the plan is for the 24-year-old defenseman to play this season overseas before returning to North America in late March or early April.