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Hamilton '100 percent' to play for Hurricanes if season resumes, GM says

Defenseman fractured left fibula in January; Reimer, Vatanen also expected to be healthy

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Dougie Hamilton will be ready to play if the NHL is able to resume the 2019-20 season, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said Thursday.

Hamilton is recovering from a fractured left fibula he sustained against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 16. Waddell said the defenseman likely would have resumed skating already if the NHL hadn't paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

"It's all based on him, but 100 percent he'll be back," Waddell said. "If we were playing today, we would have sped up that on-the-ice performance over the last couple weeks. So he's ready to go. It's just a matter of time before we put him on the ice and move forward from there. But, yes, he'll be ready play when we drop the puck." 

Hamilton has 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 47 games this season and was among the leading contenders for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman before he was injured. 

"His rehab has gone very well," Waddell said. "He's done everything that he needed to do. He's been cleared. He has not taken the ice, yet. We talked about it last week and he said that he didn't want to rush on the ice because we weren't in any urgency. He knows we're not going to be playing for the next few months.

"So, we'll address that in the next few weeks and see how he feels."

Goalie James Reimer, who was close to returning from a lower-body injury he sustained against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 22, also will be ready to play whenever the season resumes, Waddell said. Defenseman Brett Pesce, who was also injured against Toronto and had season-ending surgery on his right shoulder March 5, remains on schedule to be ready for the start of next season. He was expected to need 4-6 months to recover.

"It's a rebab process," Waddell said. "He's not going to be back for this season, but the whole plan was to be ready when the season starts next year, and it certainly looks like we're on course for that." 

Waddell and coach Rod Brind'Amour remain hopeful the NHL season will resume so Carolina will have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup for a second straight season. The Hurricanes (38-25-5) won their final three games before the pause and were tied with the Blue Jackets for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the New York Islanders. 

As a result, they were feeling good about how they were coming together after adding forward Vincent Trocheck and defensemen Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen, who has yet to play for Carolina because of a lower-body injury but is expected to be healthy if play resumes, in three trades on Feb. 24.

"I felt like the group was really playing well, maybe even our best, and all the things seemed to be firing really well that last week," Brind'Amour said. "The power play was good, the penalty killing was good, our overall game was really looking right. Justin Williams had [scored in five straight games] and he was looking like he had his legs under him. So, it was looking pretty good, and the acquisitions that we made at the [NHL Trade Deadline], which were huge additions, were starting to feel comfortable a little bit."

The Hurricanes went nine straight seasons without qualifying for the playoffs before advancing to the Eastern Conference Final last season, which included upsetting the defending champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round. Carolina, which won the Stanley Cup in 2006 and reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2009, hasn't qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2001 and 2002, when it advanced to the Cup Final. 

"This franchise has had a history where we make runs and then be out of the playoffs for multiple years," Waddell said. "So after making the run we did last year, it was important for us to get back to the playoffs this year and try to continue on what we (did) last year."

The Hurricanes have played two fewer games than the Blue Jackets, with the New York Rangers (two points behind) and Florida Panthers (three points) also in the wild-card race.

"I think we need to finish this year just to have some sort of closure to this year and move on. That's my opinion," Brind'Amour said. "If we are able to do that, that's a positive sign as far as just the bigger picture. Things would, obviously, be moving in the right direction. But I'd like to see some sort of finish to the year, whether we have regular-season games or not, and somebody win the Stanley Cup this year."

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