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Tweetmail No. 237: Injury Updates, Defensemen & Goalies

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Hello and welcome to Tweetmail, a weekly feature on Hurricanes.com in which I take your Twitter questions about the Carolina Hurricanes or other assorted topics and answer them in mailbag form. Hopefully the final product is insightful to some degree, and maybe we have some fun along the way.

Let's get to it.

Of the approximately one million injured players, which ones have the best chance of returning for regular season and/or playoffs? - @losingbad

In mid-January, the Hurricanes led the league in least man games lost. And then all of the injuries happened. (The Canes, for what it's worth, still rank second in the league in least man games lost.)

So, here's a player-by-player breakdown.

Sami Vatanen, lower body: When the Canes acquired Vatanen at the trade deadline, he had already missed around three weeks with a lower-body injury and was expected to be ready to return to the lineup in "early March." Vatanen has been skating and practiced briefly with the Canes on Wednesday. He's traveling with the team, and I would think we might see him make his debut at some point on this trip.

"We're just kind of waiting on his ability to really feel comfortable," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "I don't think he's there yet. Hopefully soon, but that's kind of a wait-and-see game for us right now."

Petr Mrazek, concussion: Mrazek has yet to clear protocol, but that's something that could happen as soon as Thursday. Once he does so, he'll join the Canes on the road trip and then get back on the ice in practice. It would be a big boost to the team if they could get him back between the pipes at some point in the next week.

"He's had a good day," Brind'Amour said. "That's positive."

James Reimer, lower body: Of the goalies, Reimer is the farther of the two from returning, so you're looking at mid-March at the earliest.

"Nothing has changed with Reims," Brind'Amour said.

Brett Pesce, right shoulder: I would not expect to see him return in the regular season.

Dougie Hamilton, broken left fibula: He could potentially return around the start of the postseason.

By my count there are 8 D. Who sits when everyone is healthy? Do they rotate or send someone to Charlotte? - @T89053076

The team has nine defensemen, but Hamilton is on long-term injured reserve (more on that below) and both Pesce and Vatanen are on injured reserve. As mentioned above, the hope is that Vatanen will be activated in the near future.

When that happens and he draws into the lineup, who comes out? No one will be headed to Charlotte, but I would think either Trevor van Riemsdyk or Haydn Fleury, or perhaps a rotation of both, will sit out. Fleury seems to be thriving with regular playing time, so I lean towards keeping him in the lineup. That leaves van Riemsdyk as the odd man out, but I wouldn't expect any one player to stay on the shelf for too long.

What's the difference between long-term injured reserve and injured reserve? I've seen both of those terms used a lot lately but am still unsure as to the difference. - @swiftnhl

Injured reserve is a simple roster designation that frees up a spot on a team's 23-man active roster. Players have to remain on IR for a minimum of seven days.

Long-term injured reserve is difficult to properly explain, but I'll give it my best shot.

LTIR is, more accurately, a long-term injury exception to the upper limit of the salary cap. Basically, it allows a team to exceed the salary cap ceiling and gain some additional spending flexibility when replacing injured players on the roster. In the Canes' case, it was a delicate balancing act on trade deadline day. They acquired Vincent Trocheck from Florida in the morning and Vatanen that afternoon. That pushed them up against the upper limit of the cap. They then placed Dougie Hamilton on LTIR in order to spend above the cap and acquire Brady Skjei.

Still confused? I don't blame you. Vice President of Hockey Operations Paul Krepelka spoke more about it on episode 126 of CanesCast, right around the 40:20 mark.

Is the Canes lack of success against the Metro this year a case of bad luck or bad match-ups? - @vallejo_austin

The Canes are 6-11-1 against the Metropolitan Division this season, with 10 divisional games remaining, including four along on this five-game road trip.

That record is somewhat glaring, too, especially compared to the team's record against the other three divisions: 11-5-1 vs. Atlantic, 8-5-0 vs. Central and 10-3-3 vs. Pacific.

So, why?

It's a combination of a number of factors, I think, chief of which is the level of competition within the division. It's the most competitive of the four in the NHL this season, and five teams are likely to make the playoffs. Look at Washington's divisional record: They're middling around at hockey .500 with a 10-11-1 ledger, yet they sit in first place. The outlier is Philadelphia, who is a remarkable 14-4-4 within the Metro, but strangely they've struggled against the Pacific (6-7-2).

An advantage of the Metropolitan Division is how densely the teams are located. That means easier travel, but it also leads to more back-to-backs. Another factor in the team's bleh divisional record could be when those games are played. Seven of the Canes' 18 divisional games this season have been played in back-to-back scenarios, and they're 3-4-0 in those games.

And then, yeah, there might be a bit of bad luck thrown in there. A regular-season series sweep for the Rangers certainly does the Canes' divisional record no favors.

Who do you believe has earned the goalie job right now? - @BostonHenta

I don't think you can consider either Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic the No. 1 goaltender. While Mrazek and Reimer remain sidelined, Forsberg and Nedeljkovic will continue to split starts. You'll see both of them on this road trip, especially with a back-to-back this weekend. Then, once Mrazek is cleared to return, he will obviously assume the No. 1 role.

Can the goalie be called for icing? - @toddamcgee

Yep. It doesn't matter which player fires the puck down the ice from beyond his own red line; icing is icing. Recently in fact, Mrazek, in an attempt to play the puck down the ice to a teammate, ended up icing the puck; I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, this happened against New York on Jan. 21. I could be wrong, though. In any case, the answer is yes, but you just don't see it happen too often.

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Join me next week from New Jersey for more questions and more answers!

If you have a question you'd like answered or you remember exactly which game Mrazek iced the puck, you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes, or you can drop me an email.

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