Dougie Hamilton's season may not be finished. The Carolina Hurricanes believe the defenseman could return before the end of the regular season at the earliest, or perhaps during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
General manager Don Waddell said Friday the Hurricanes would be apprehensive to place Hamilton on long-term injured reserve and utilize the additional salary cap space that would create because it might prevent Carolina from activating Hamilton before the end of the regular season.
There was a belief after Hamilton fractured his fibula and underwent surgery on Jan. 17, one day after sustaining the injury, that he could be done for the season. On Jan. 21, coach Rod Brind'Amour said, "We're counting that he's done for the year."
Video: Dougie Hamilton undergoes surgery on his broken leg
Waddell is not ready to accept that as a given with the Hurricanes making plans ahead of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. ET. The NHL regular season ends April 4. The playoffs start four days later.
"The only thing that I'm cautious about is with Dougie they say 8-12 weeks," Waddell said Friday. "If he's 10 weeks, that's the last week of March. If he was ready to go that last week of the season, the last week of the season, starting on March 28, we have five games. Those might be the most important five games of the year.
"So if he was ready to come back, you'd want to try to keep space to bring him back."
Hamilton had 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 47 games and was selected to represent the Hurricanes at the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis before he was injured. So getting him back before the end of the regular season would be a big boost for Carolina (29-18-3), which holds the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference heading into its game against the Vegas Golden Knights at PNC Arena on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-CR, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV).
Waddell said Hamilton's recovery is going well.
"He's two weeks into it," Waddell said. "The rehab is going as good as it could go at this point. The biggest thing is you've got to let the bone heal. When you've got a broken bone, there's not much you can do for that, but you can do some other things as far as treatment and try to speed it along as much as humanly you can, and everything so far has gone very well. There's been no setbacks or anything like that."
Not using long-term injured reserve wouldn't prevent the Hurricanes from adding a player before the trade deadline, though.
"At the deadline right now, we can add a contract of over $5 million without going into LTIR," Waddell said.
Waddell discussed the state of the Hurricanes, Carolina's plans for the trade deadline and more in an interview with NHL.com:
What are your thoughts on how the team has done so far this season?
"We've played 50 games, we're 11 games over .500, so that's on pace to be 17, 18 games over .500, which would get you close to 100 points. So I think we've had a pretty good run here the first 50. Now, we're in an unbelievably tight battle in the East right now with teams right around us. We can't afford to go on any kind of three- or four-game losing streak. We've had some of those this year. We've gone and we've won four or five in a row and then we'll lose three or four in a row. We can't afford any kind of losing streak at this time of the year.
"But we like our team. We lost Hamilton, which is a big loss for us. But going into the next few weeks, if there's a D that we feel like would help us and the price is right, we'd certainly look at adding one."
Did losing Hamilton change what you were thinking about doing?
"Not really. It might have changed the type of player we were looking for. We always felt that's one place that we could either upgrade or add some more experience to, on the blue line. Before we probably wanted more of a defensive guy. Now, we're probably more open-minded toward that. We've got some young guys; [Haydn] Fleury has jumped in the lineup and played the last three games and played well. The good thing is going into the break, we won the last couple before the break, so that gives you confidence that those guys can get the job done for you, too."
Are you set with your forward group now after signing Justin Williams on Jan. 7 or are you looking to add there, too?
"No, we feel like we're in pretty good shape. It's your job as a GM, you're always talking and always seeing what's out there. If we ever used a forward to get a D, we might have to look at getting another forward. But you want to keep your finger on the pulse and see if you can stay on top of things as much as possible."
You've had some young players take a step this season with 19-year-old forward Andrei Svechnikov having 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) and rookie forward Martin Necas getting 27 (12, goals, 15 assists). Are you happy with how the team has progressed in that way?
"Yeah, we are. Svechnikov after one year has taken another big step. Necas, I think the smartest thing we've done is leaving him down in the [American Hockey League] last year. He got to play an extra 18 games in the playoffs and they won the Calder Cup. Playoff hockey, I don't care what level you're playing at, it's good experience and it's always hard hockey. So certainly, I think, that was the right move. … And we knew we needed to add a center, so we added [Erik] Haula in the offseason (in a trade with Vegas) and he's done a good job for us.
"So the void that we felt we needed to improve on in the summertime, I thought we addressed those, and we like our team. If we do nothing, we do nothing. We would go to battle with these guys, but if we're able to do something, then that would just enhance our opportunities."
Video: WPG@CAR: Williams nets first goal in return to 'Canes
Haula has taken some maintenance time here and there because of his knee, which he had surgery on last season. Is that something you have to keep an eye on?
"When you have major surgery like that, when he was out, they call it tendinitis. We did MRIs. There was nothing. The knee has been repaired. That's not the issue. But sometimes you get some tendinitis in there. He was good going into the break … and having eight, nine days, for a player like that, that's only to benefit them."
Was it nice that defenseman Jaccob Slavin was able to go to the All-Star Game in Hamilton's place and get some recognition for how he has played?
"For sure. Jaccob, nothing against our media market, but if we were in a bigger hockey media market, he'd get more recognition. I think he'd even be talked about in some of the Norris Trophy stuff. He's just that good. You can play him in every situation. He's got a great stick. I can't say enough good things about him, and he's certainly by far our best all-around defenseman. So, very well deserving to go to the All-Star Game."
Video: Accuracy Shooting: Slavin wins with superb shooting
Center Sebastian Aho has 42 points (24 goals, 18 assists), but had a bit of a slow start. Do you think he felt some initial pressure from his new contract after you matched the five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet from the Montreal Canadiens?
"Yeah. I think he had a very slow start, and I think what happened was he cares. The player cares and he was putting a lot of pressure on himself after getting the contract and all that. I remember I sat and talked with him and told him, 'That's all behind us now. Just go back to playing your game.' I think the first eight games, he had one empty-net goal or something like that, and ever since then, he's come back to the player that he was and even more. He's another young guy that's only getting better. These guys haven't peaked by any means, so that's the nice thing about young players."
What do you think about the job goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have done?
"Reimer has a .921 save percentage and Petr's save percentage might not be as good (.905), but Petr's a battler. Petr came up big for us last year in the playoffs. We look at it as a tandem. Maybe we don't have that true No. 1 that some teams have, but from a tandem standpoint, as we did last year, we've got two very capable guys that could go on runs at any point."