RALEIGH — Defenseman Dougie Hamilton again was absent Saturday as the Carolina Hurricanes put in their final training camp practice in Raleigh,
The Hurricanes will leave today for Toronto, the hub city for the Eastern Conference teams in the NHL’s Return to Play format. They will play one exhibition game, Wednesday against the Washington Capitals, before the Aug. 1 start of their best-of-five qualifying round against the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Arena.
“We’re at a point where mentally and physically the guys want to get going and play games,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said in his Saturday media call.
But Hamilton’s status is a big question mark. He had recovered from a broken left fibula, been medically cleared and had been skating when the NHL Phase 3 training camps began July 13. But he left the ice in some discomfort Wednesday during practice, was absent from practice on Thursday at PNC Arena and again Saturday.
Under the Phase 3 protocols, teams are not allowed to release information on injuries or absences other than saying a player is “unfit to play” — the term Brind’Amour used again Saturday about Hamilton. Brind’Amour said Thursday he was hoping Hamilton’s situation wasn’t “something that’s long term.”
The Hurricanes called off a scheduled Friday practice at PNC Arena, leaving those outside the team to guess about Hamilton’s availability until Saturday.
Forward Martin Necas left the ice during Saturday’s practice. Brind’Amour said Necas “did something when he was skating around” but didn’t consider it an issue.
The NHL is allowing each team a 52-person travel party, including as many as 31 players, to enter the “bubble” and Secure Zone in Toronto for Phase 4. Teams were required to turn in their travel lists Friday, which will be released by the league.
Brind’Amour said Saturday that everyone that was in Raleigh — including Hamilton — was on the player roster. He said defenseman Brett Pesce, who still is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and was not at camp, would be on the Phase 4 roster.
“He’s not quite up to speed,” Brind’Amour said. “Hopefully we see him at some point. If we’re talking about Brett Pesce playing then things are going in the right direction.”
Hamilton was one of the NHL’s best players before his Jan. 16 injury, sidelining him for the final 21 regular-season games before the NHL paused the season March 12 during the pandemic. He was selected for the NHL All-Star Weekend but unable to attend and compete for the Metropolitan Division All-Star team.
It initially was believed Hamilton could recover from the injury and rejoin the Hurricanes if they reached the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL’s suspension of the 2019-20 season because of the spread of the coronavirus added to his recovery time.
Once camp began, Hamilton again joined Jaccob Slavin as the Hurricanes’ top defensive pairing and quarterbacked the top power-play unit. He again gave the Hurricanes some offensive flair on the back end, showing off the skills that helped him score 14 goals and add 26 assists before his injury.
“You look at our power play and a healthy Dougie and what that power play is able to do,” Slavin said Saturday in a media call. “Obviously the season Dougie was having leading up to being injured was spectacular. You look at the type of player he is, the offense he brings. I know for both of us the defensive zone together was good this year.
“Just all over the ice, he’s an impact player out there. Hopefully he’s back as quick as he can be. And we’ll definitely need him, for sure.”
With Hamilton out the last two practices, Sami Vatanen replaced him in the No. 1 defensive pairing and on the power play.
Slavin said he has been impressed with Vatanen, a Feb. 24 trade deadline acquisition from the New Jersey Devils. The Finnish defenseman, Slavin said, had a lot of the same attributes as Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, saying, “He brings some of that same skill set but on the defensive side.”
Brind’Amour said the Hurricanes would have coronavirus testing today, then take a late-afternoon flight to Toronto. It’s on to Phase 4 after two weeks of training camp, on to the “bubble.”
“I really liked the first week. Everyone was just excited to be back,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s what they do. They just want to play hockey and they were jacked up. They’re ready to play some games.”
This article is published through the N.C. News Collaborative, a partnership of Lee, Gannett and McClatchy newspapers in North Carolina that aims to better inform readers throughout the state.