by Kate Shefte
So, um…hi. It’s been a while. Since last we talked training camp, my hometown Bulls won a triple-A championship, the Railhawks made the playoffs, a mute Tyler Hansbrough was featured in an AT&T commercial and “health care” became a dirty phrase.
In addition, the ‘Canes finally bought out Frank Kaberle and Anton Babchuk sulked back to Russia yet again. The ‘Canes’ rooks, featuring Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman, also put on an impressive showing at the Traverse City Tournament, beating out the Minnesota Wild farm team for the tournament title. What made this strange – and pretty darn cool – was that this was the ‘Canes’ first year at this particular event. The AHL squad took perennial tournament scapegoat Tampa Bay’s place and ran away with the thing, which is a promising sign for the team’s future as the veteran core inches closer and closer to retirement.
Carolina is only scheduled for four preseason games this year, including two home and two away against Atlanta and Nashville. It dropped the first two before eking out a win tonight at the RBC Center and the best the team could do is break even.
Is that any indicator of regular season success, though? A quick bit of research uncovered that the ‘Canes went 3-3 in the preseason last season, when the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, 4-1-1, the year before, when it missed the playoffs, and 5-2-1 the year it won the Cup. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag – no real conclusions to be drawn here.
Which makes me wonder, what is the use of preseason games anyway? Why not just do away with the whole charade? If you were doing the addition there, the number of preseason games have dwindled consistently over the past few years for Carolina. Some teams, such as Philadelphia, still find some value in these contests – Philly has seven on the schedule this fall. But this isn’t college football. Realistically, the chances of a farm teamer having a fantastic camp, impressing the bejeezus out of his coach and edging out a vet for a spot on the starting roster are slim. They know who is going to make the team and who isn’t, for the most part, before the camp begins unless there have been a lot of offseason surgeries or the team is just a total mess. So what is the point? To give them a tiny taste of quasi-NHL experience against mostly fellow AHLers before shipping them down again?
Most teams don’t dress their full rosters, and those that do treat them like scrimmages. Preseason games invite injury and don’t draw normal crowds. Though getting your feet wet before opening night is good in theory, it seems to me the whole thing has lost its ‘oomph.’
During tonight’s game, the ‘Canes dressed almost their entire roster, but even from the fifth floor it was clear to whom the game mattered and to whom it didn’t. A thousand turnovers, some sloppy passing and a few beautiful set-ups later, Atlanta try-outs Maxim Afinogenov and Manny Legace were the ones giving it their all for 60 minutes because they were the only ones with something to lose – a paycheck. Both are currently with Atlanta on a try-out basis. Carolina, meanwhile, has no free agent try-outs for the first year in recent memory.
And speaking of injuries, new addition Tom K-Something was visibly woozy after a first period fight and had to be helped off the ice. It was announced later that he sustained an upper body injury and missed the rest of the game. If you’re not a rookie trying to prove yourself and avoid being sent back down on the next plane to Albany, why would you risk injuring yourself by fighting in the preseason, when it doesn't matter? Both K-Something and his opponent, Josh Gratton, are all but assured of roster spots. Thankfully, K-Something’s absence was reportedly precautionary and he’s fine.
Aaron Ward went down sliding to block a shot, something you don’t often see this early, then Eric Staal turned around, brought it up the ice and Paul Postma scored off a beautiful deflection right in front of the net. That name doesn’t sound familiar? Well, it shouldn’t – he plays for Atlanta. Oops.
Afinegenov tipped one past Ward to tie it, but Joe Corvo blasted a shot from the point on a 5-on-3 and Erik Cole set up Ray Whitney to make it 4-2 after. A few seconds later, Atlanta made it close again, but the ‘Canes’ preseason home finale ended 4-3. Whitney took a scary ricochet off the face in the final few minutes and promptly left the game, but he should also be fine.
The ‘Canes travel to Nashville tomorrow night and after that, Jay Harrison, Tim Conboy, Jamie McBain (one of those three may stay, in the unlikely event that Pitkanen isn’t ready to go yet) Patrick Dwyer and Michael Ryan will head back to Albany. There is a slim chance that Sutter will stick around. After that – unless Rutherford wants to make this chick very happy and sign Manny Fernandez to a cheap one-year deal – the roster should be ready for Philly next Friday.