The Canes are getting healthier, and with that could come some important decisions.
Barring a setback or a stamp of disapproval from Hurricanes’ trainer Pete Friesen, coach Paul Maurice said Monday that he expects both Jussi Jokinen and Cam Ward to play the following night in Calgary. Jokinen has missed six games with a lower-body injury, while Ward has dressed but did not start the last two with a lower-body concern of his own.
Ward’s return won’t cause any sort of headache, but Jokinen’s comeback will require a roster move as the team is already carrying a full allotment of forwards, three of whom – Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe and Jon Matsumoto – are up on emergency recall.
“That will be a decision (General Manager) Jim (Rutherford) will have to make,” said Maurice. “Some of this has to do with emergency recalls and you’ve got to move paper around to make a change. When you’re carrying 12 forwards, whenever a guy comes up another guy has to move.”
When players are brought up from the American Hockey League on emergency recall, they are each tied to a specific player. Officially, Boychuk replaced Jiri Tlusty, Dalpe replaced Jokinen and Matsumoto replaced Ryan Carter.
However, those ties can be changed, meaning that Dalpe is not an automatic reassignment to Charlotte due to Jokinen’s return. Based on playing time and recent impact in the lineup, Matsumoto, who has not hit the six-minute mark in two games of this particular recall, would seem to be the most likely choice. Boychuk has 5 points in his last seven games and has recently played on the first line with Eric Staal and Erik Cole, while Zac Dalpe has 3 goals in his last five contests.
“I like the way they’ve played,” said Maurice of Boychuk and Dalpe. “I like the effort that they’ve brought, I like that speed and I like the competition now that’s out there that’s unspoken.”
If Jokinen does return and Matsumoto is the reassignment choice, a shift in the lineup will be needed. Carter, who picked up an upper-body injury in New York on Jan. 5 and has missed two games since, is not expected to play Tuesday, meaning that another player will have to make the move to fourth-line center.
Although they’d stay with the Hurricanes in that scenario, that shift could involve Boychuk and Dalpe.
“They’re both playing in the top nine now, and I think Jokinen has to go back in the top nine when he’s ready,” said Maurice.
Carter, Jokinen and Tlusty all practiced with the rest of the team Monday at the RecZone, although they each wore a gold non-contact jersey and did not skate on a regular line. The Canes will have to make a tougher decision involving Boychuk and Dalpe if Carter and Tlusty return and everyone else stays healthy, which could happen as soon as Thursday’s contest in Buffalo.
“I think we just play the best guys we’ve got,” said Maurice. “I do think that as soon as one of them falls off they have to go play 20 minutes a night (with Charlotte), but I like the way they’ve played.”
Jokinen, who was passed by Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner on the team's scoring charts during his injury but still ranks fourth, said that his return would end what has been a frustrating spell on the sidelines.
"I expected to come back sooner, and early on we maybe pushed it a little too hard," he said. "I haven't been hurt very often in my career, and knock on wood, I hope I can keep it that way."