The NHL and its player’s union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement in the early morning hours on Sunday, ending a labor work stoppage that lasted 113 days.
Phoenix Coyotes’ Assistant GM Brad Treliving, who is in charge of hockey operations with its AHL affiliate in Portland, had sensed things might have been moving in a positive direction in hopes salvaging a season. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had indicated that a deal needed to be completed by Jan. 11 in order to salvage a 48-game season.
“I found out Sunday morning about it 5:10am,” he said. “I had a bunch text and email that said something was up. I was very optimistic when I went to bed. We watched the Portland game on Saturday and reading everything you kind of knew that they were grinding it out.”
With the training camps expected to open later this week, or over the weekend, just how drastic those changes will be remains to be seen. The new collective bargaining agreement must still be ratified by the NHL Board of Governors, and the full membership of the NHL Players’ Association. That move is expected to happen sometime Wednesday in New York City and the season is slated to start on Jan. 19.
In the meantime, Treliving and the rest of the staff with the Coyotes are back in Glendale, Arizona scurrying to gather as much information as possible about deal, what they can and can’t do at the moment and in the future, when camp will open, how long camp will last and how will the schedule look.
“We haven’t really gotten all the information yet,” said Treliving. “We have a basic idea, but we still are waiting for definitive dates as to when we are starting camp. It sounds the season will start on the 19th, but we still have not received a schedule so we are at a moment where it’s hurry up and wait, but the good news is we are at least playing.”
Team facilities across the NHL were opened to players on Monday, but they are not allowed to have contact with the coaching staff during on-ice sessions until the CBA is ratified.
Teams are also not allowed to officially recall players from the AHL yet, however, the first shoe dropped on Monday for the Pirates when defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson departed for the Coyotes.
Ekman-Larsson, who has appeared in 20 games, scoring 21 points (7g, 14a) with a plus-5 rating, missed the last five games due to a lower-body injury and with the lockout coming to an end he was no longer going to be seeing playing time in the Pirates’ lineup, so they opted to bring him out to Arizona to be seen by Coyotes’ medical staff.
“Oliver had a little injury and we wanted to make sure everything is fine so that’s why he came back,” Treliving said.
Ekman-Larsson is not the only player on the radar of Treliving and the rest of the Coyotes’ hockey operations staff.
The Coyotes have 21 players on its current roster including Ekman-Larsson (13 forwards, six defensemen and 2 goaltenders), which leaves an opening for players in Portland to earn a spot on the NHL roster.
Just how many players find their way to the Coyotes for an abbreviated training camp is yet unknown, but it could be as many as four or five players.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on the training camp schedule because that’s going to be the most practice time we’ll have all season,” said Treliving. “Looking at the calendar, it’s going to be like the playoffs with traveling, playing games, resting and there won’t be a lot of practice time. I think you will see us try to get as much time with the main group during camp as possible. I don’t see our numbers being huge.”
With room for a spot or two in the lineup, which doesn’t account for the suspension to Raffi Torres or injuries, it will make the next several days important for whoever gets the call.
“You’re trying to get down to your playing numbers because you might have five or six days depending on who you are playing or if you begin the season on the road,” Treliving said. “It will be an impact on Portland like it will be an impact on the rest of the AHL to a certain extent. Over the short term if you are going to have a couple extra guys up for camp, that’s going to have an impact on the roster.”
Torres has eight games left on a 21-game suspension that he received after a hit to the head of Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Marian Hossa during last spring’s Stanley Cup Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Treliving hopes there is some adjustment made to the suspension, but has yet to be notified by the league.
“We’ve heard nothing yet on that front, but we’re hopeful that we might see a change to that,” he said.
Treliving said that he doesn’t expect any junior players to attend camp, and the overall number of players who will attend camp hadn’t been determined yet, but that it wouldn’t be a traditional camp with 45 or 50 players attending. Instead he expects mainly players that are mainly on the roster to be the players recalled from Portland.
Alexandre Bolduc and Andy Miele are candidates to make their way to Phoenix once the CBA is ratified.
Bolduc is the Pirates’ leading scorer with 16 goals, 14 assists for 30 points with a plus-1 rating in 33 games. Miele is only four points behind Bolduc with 26 points, posting 11 goals, 15 assists in 34 games.
Other potential names of players who could be recalled either in the short term or over the course of the season by the Coyotes includes defensemen David Rundblad, Max Goncharov, Mike Stone and Chris Summers.
“If this was a regular camp you’d have three weeks, a rookie camp, eight, nine exhibition games, but this is not the case. This will be more a camp where it’s time to giddy up,” said Treliving. “We’ve got a lot player’s that at some point and time could be playing for us this season, but it may not be a situation where they are at camp. We’ve got a lot of young players and this is going to be a short, tight, quick training camp.”
Treliving believes this will test the strength of a team’s depth in the minors.
“Just the nature of a lots game in a short period of time will test the depth of an organization,” he said. “You’re playing a lot game is a short period of time, there’s a lot of chances for injuries and guys wear down and we’ll have to rely on our depth. We could go through a lot of players over the course of the season.”
NOTES: The AHL named Pirates goaltender Mark Visentin CCM/AHL Player of the Week on Monday. The rookie goaltender stopped 87 of 89 shots in a pair of games last week, going 2-0-0 with a 1.00GAA and a .978 save percentage.