-- The cut-down day process in the NHL is not entirely unlike that found in high-school sports programs.
A list of player names hangs on a wall. Players are to report to the coach's office, though the news is not in question. There, the coach will take time to speak with the player, an opportunity to offer encouragement and direction. A player then heads off to his new home.
Positional needs, contract status, training-camp play and simple human intuition all factor into the decisions that will shape League rosters heading into opening night Oct. 6. Some of the choices are obvious because of youth and inexperience. Other decisions are much more difficult. The names and organizational needs vary, but the dynamics are quite similar across all 30 NHL member cities.
After that process, the rest depends on the player and the attitude that he packs with him on his way to the American Hockey League, or back to his junior team.
coach Claude Noel
detailed the thought process that went into dispatching 20 players Tuesday to the St. John's IceCaps, the club's AHL affiliate. Another round of roughly 12 more cuts awaits the club, as it does with many NHL teams still trying to whittle down rosters.
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In Winnipeg, familiarity complicated the process for Noel. Last season while coaching the AHL's Manitoba Moose, defensemen Mark Flood
and Travis Ramsey
, plus forwards Kevin Clark
, Jason Jaffray
, Marco Rosa
and Shawn Weller
all played major roles for Noel's team. Tuesday saw the six players again sent off to the AHL.
"A Jason Jaffray
, I feel for," Noel said. "A Marco Rosa
, I feel for. The love isn't gone."
Noel could offer no favors for any of the former Moose players, and if anything, that familiarity factor may have worked against the group.
"We don't know our whole group," said Noel, who is in his first season with the organization. "Should they be here instead of other people? Potentially, yes. That is the sad part.
"We know them, and that is sometimes the disadvantage. For example, you might take a look at a younger player, a first- or second-year player that you don't know. He is new to the organization. He is a draft pick from Atlanta or ourselves that we don't know. Let's use Jason Jaffray
[as an example]. Would that [younger] forward be better than Jason Jaffray
today? Probably not. So if I'm Jason, I'm looking at the list and thinking, ‘I'm better than him.' Clearly, you are. But [the other player] is 21 and we're trying to get to know him, and Jason is 29 and we do know him. So it hurts that way."
How do players take the news? It is one thing to be cut as a young prospect, but a veteran player on the League bubble has endured the process before. For the six former Moose players cut Tuesday, this season may have offered them the best opportunity in their careers to break training camp with an NHL club.
"Everybody is different," Noel said. "You have to help them. It's never an easy thing. I've been through it on both sides [as a player and a coach]. They're all mature about it. They know it's not personal. They handle it the best they can."
Noel also downplayed the role that contract status would help shape decisions. Some League clubs are not averse to dispatching a player on a one-way contract to the AHL as a salary cap-management strategy. The Jets and a number of other NHL clubs do not adhere to that philosophy, however.
Like many NHL clubs, the Jets have nearly enough players on one-way contracts to fill out a roster, but contract status alone will not keep a player in or out of an NHL job.
"It doesn't work that way," Noel said. "Those are things and numbers that may hang you up and may delay time, but if a player can play, it doesn't enter into the equation. If a player can play ahead of another player, a contract becomes a stumbling block [but not an obstacle]."
But just in case it would subconsciously guide his decision-making process, Noel chooses to not familiarize himself with his charges' contract statuses.
"I don't want to know, to be honest with you," Noel said.
In the meantime, none of the decisions need be permanent. A player sent out of town on a flight to the AHL can just as easily make that reverse trip tomorrow.
"We'd love to see them all back here," Noel said. "They're here because they have a chance to play for us. The door will open. Opportunity exists. You have to prepare your game for it."