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Staal, Waddell React to Return to Play Plan

Staal: 'The boys are ready'

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

With the National Hockey League's announcement of the 24-team return to play plan, the Carolina Hurricanes' group chat has been more spirited and lively.

"The boys are ready," Jordan Staal said on a video conference call on Wednesday afternoon, "chomping at the bit for whenever we do get this thing going."

When continues to be the biggest unknown, the x-factor in the league's return to play plan. It's important, though, that a framework exists, which provides some structure for teams and players previously in limbo and a target - floating as it may be - for resumption of play.

Under the outlined return to play format, the Hurricanes, as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference based on points percentage, will face off with the New York Rangers (11th seed) in a best-of-five Qualifying Round.

Yes, that's Jordan vs. Marc, the first time a pair of Staal brothers will face off in the "playoffs" since 2009, when Eric's Canes were swept by Jordan's Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.

"I haven't played against a brother in playoffs in a while," Jordan said. "I know my parents hate it, but I think we're going to enjoy it and have some fun with it."

The Rangers swept the four-game season series, outscoring the Canes 17-9. But, everything changes in a best-of-five series. Just think back to last year when the Canes dethroned the defending Stanley Cup champions in the First Round after going 0-3-1 against them in the regular season.

Video: "There's no home ice advantage in the series."

"[New York] is a team we've struggled with, so it's a great challenge for us jumping right into it," Staal said. "Roddy is going to do a great job preparing for it and making sure everyone is ready."

That preparation has already begun as the league nears an "early June" target date for Phase 2 of its transition protocol, allowing players to return to training facilities for voluntary, small-group on- and off-ice workouts.

"I know my skills are great right now," Staal joked. "Just being off the ice is difficult. That's the big thing, and that's why you want a little bit of cushion when we do get started just to get back on the ice."

Phase 3, the beginning of a formal training camp period, is set to begin on July 10. President and General Manager Don Waddell said he envisions a two- to three-week training camp, plus one or two exhibition games once teams arrive in the designated hub city.

RELATED: WHAT THE NHL'S 24-TEAM RETURN TO PLAY FORMAT MEANS FOR THE CANES

Rosters will expand when the league returns to play, reportedly up to 28 players and unlimited goaltenders. That could open the door for players like Jake Bean, named the AHL's defenseman of the year, or Joey Keane, named to the AHL's All-Rookie Team, to join the big club.

"Rod doesn't want to have too many guys. … You want to make sure when you go out, it's your team practicing," Waddell said. "Having said that, there is a benefit for them to be around here. We will bring in some of those guys, for sure."

The Canes will have a full complement of healthy bodies, too. Dougie Hamilton, who underwent surgery in January to repair a fractured fibula in his left leg, has been skating and will be ready to play when the puck drops.

"He's a big, towering defenseman who knows how to score goals and run a power play," Staal said. "I just actually had him over the other night, and he's excited to get going and be a part of the group again."

James Reimer and Sami Vatanen, who were both sidelined with lower-body injuries at the time of the pause, are also healthy and ready.

The only question mark remaining on the injured list is Brett Pesce, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. He is expected to be healthy by "sometime probably in the middle of August," Waddell said, which could be very close to when the league resumes play.

If and when Phase 4 does indeed begin and 24 teams return to the ice, it will happen in two hub cities, one for each conference. Comprehensive testing will be regular. Contact with anything but the hotel, arena and practice facilities will be extremely limited. It's a delicate plan that requires buy-in from everyone in order to ensure the health and safety of all involved.

"It's going to be an unfortunate challenge being away from the families and all the other stuff that's going to come along with it," Staal said. "It's a different time, and, if we want to play these games, this is the way we're going to have to do it. So, guys are going to have to make some sacrifices, and guys are willing to do it. Everyone is ready to play."

Everyone is ready. A plan is in place. Now, we wait and hope to see the puck drop in a couple of short months.

"I'm feeling really confident about our team and what we can do," Staal said. "We've got a pretty solid group, and hopefully we'll make a good push."

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