Even though on-ice instruction began just earlier this week, the Carolina Hurricanes are already at the halfway mark of training camp, and in exactly a week, the puck will drop in Detroit on the 56-game 2020-21 schedule.
That's a short runway for the Canes to get revved up and game ready, so first four practice days have been high-paced and methodical, similar to the quick ramp up prior to playoffs in the bubble.
"We're very business-like, which is good. We know we have to get better, and time is short here," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "I've certainly appreciated the work that the guys have put in."
Each day's practice has built upon the one before it, and each drill has addressed a specific aspect of the Canes' system. Special teams work has seen a steady increase from breakouts to running full possessions. On Thursday, the Canes "scrimmaged" in quick 35-second shifts.
Practicing with a group of 23 skaters - smaller than the typical training camp - the team has been efficient and purposeful in its execution during the 60-75 minute skates. There are only eight training camp practices on the schedule, after all.
"You're not doing the first couple of days where you're just out there working to work. These days, you're out there working for a purpose," Jordan Martinook said. "Everything we're doing is covering our whole game. Each day we've had different things we're trying to accomplish, and it's gone pretty well."
Video: "Having him [Pesce] back just makes us better."
In the coming days, the Canes plan to scrimmage at least once, according to Brind'Amour, who discussed with his staff on Thursday morning when might be the optimal time to do so.
"I think we need to have at least one of them just to feel like a game," he said. "I don't really expect it to be very intense. I'd like it to be, but those have really fallen off over the years."
An intrasquad scrimmage, though, is the best alternative in the absence of a full preseason schedule, let alone a single exhibition game.
Speaking of the preseason, what do the Canes think about skipping it this time around?
"It's not something we're used to. Personally, I think the older you get, the more boring the preseason might get, but at the same time, [exhibition games] are good and do help at times," Jordan Staal said. "For me, I'm excited to just get right into it."
"I think it's a con, honestly," Jaccob Slavin said. "I think all the guys appreciate being able to play a couple to work out those little kinks, but I also know Roddy is going to run a camp to where we are ready to go without any preseason games."
Video: "We don't have a lot of time."
"I hated playing preseason games as a player because, at the end of the day, they don't count. But I understand as a coach why you like them because you can try different things. It's kind of a freebie to go out and figure stuff out," Brind'Amour said. "The good news is that no one else is playing games, so I think we're all in the same boat. I think in the end, the players are going to like this."
Just drop the puck - and that's exactly what will happen in just a week's time.
Ch-Ch-Changes in the AHL
In early September, the Canes entered into a three-year affiliation agreement with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. On Thursday, it was announced that the affiliation would be split with the Nashville Predators for the 2020-21 season.
It's a move that makes sense given the current landscape of both leagues. The creation of the taxi squad in the NHL will take four to six players away from the AHL roster, while three AHL teams have elected to opt out of play in the 2020-21 season, opening the door for affiliation partnerships.
The current Wolves coaching staff will remain intact, and this includes head coach Ryan Warsofsky, who is leading on-ice instruction for the group of 15 players not practicing with the NHL group in Canes' training camp.
Not much, then, will change for the Canes' organization in this one-year partnership, but there is a chance that teammates in the AHL could then line up against one another in one of eight meetings between the Predators and Canes in the Central Division.
Hailing a Taxi
In the absence of true training camp competition - given the truncated schedule, the fewer number of players in town and the simple fact that the Canes essentially have their team already set - one of the more interesting roster decisions to track over the next week is the formation of the taxi squad.
Comprised of four to six players, including a third goaltender if one is not present on the 23-man active roster, this group will practice with the NHL club and can travel with the team, as needed. It's essentially an insurance policy given the unpredictability of how COVID-19 might affect teams this season.
Final decisions don't have to be made quite yet, but the Canes have "beat this around a lot already," according to Brind'Amour. What's the strategy?
"Normally you'd say we're not going to have five injuries, but with COVID going on, you don't know if five guys could get taken out, so you've got to have five guys ready. Then, you don't want your young guys or prospects sitting around not playing, so is it better to have them down playing in the AHL?" he pondered. "It's all about the development for these guys. We've got to make sure we're doing it right. Practice is good, but they've got to play. Yet, we're worried about our team. I want the best guys available."
It certainly poses an interesting quandary, and it's something that, with the input of President and General Manager Don Waddell, I further explored in this week's installment of Tweetmail.