After a feverish four game start to the preseason (including a split-squad evening where the team literally played two games in the same night), the Columbus Blue Jackets reduced their training camp roster to 33 players yesterday.
I’m not going to go over the list of names because 1) they’re listed in the link above and 2) I think it safe to say that none of the cuts thus far have been surprising.
The National Hockey League allows bloated training camp rosters (the CBJ had 58 to open camp) to allow team leadership to evaluate all of the players in their system – those slotted for NHL play in Columbus, those who will be playing for the AHL Springfield Falcons and those who are on schedule for further skill development through the ECHL or the major junior system. Some might go to American collegiate hockey, but I’d guess that most all of those kids already started school after the pre-training camp “prospects camp” and tournament in Traverse City.
The larger rosters also help a team field split-squad rosters for those nights of organizational craziness like this past Tuesday, when one squad stayed home to play Buffalo while the other went up to The State of Hockey to scrimmage against Minnesota.
I also presume that the larger rosters give that very rare prospect whose skills developed exponentially over the summer a chance to show off and perhaps make a Cinderella run at making the team – but only Boone Jenner has emerged as anything approaching a surprise, and not because he wasn’t projected to make the team (he was considered on the bubble at worst) but instead because of the manner in which he’s going about it (a two-point night in 19 minutes of time on ice at Carolina – wow!).
Now we’re down to 33. When the NHL mandates that rosters can be no bigger than 23 and no smaller than 20 on a given night, that means that roughly two-thirds of the players left in camp will make the squad for opening night. And the next seven days, in my opinion, is where it gets very interesting.
You’ve still got a few top-line AHLers in camp. You’ve still got a few bottom six NHLers in camp. Will any of those AHLers leapfrog any NHLers – like Derek McKenzie did a few years back – and unexpectedly grab a roster spot?
Will the inevitable training camp injuries force the team into playing some of those bubble players a little more, giving the player(s) a chance to shine just one more time?
Will team management, with a handful of scrimmages under their belt, take a cold, hard look at the roster and say, “We’re just not good enough at <insert desirable hockey attribute here> to be competitive,” and make a trade to bring in some help?
They call it “moving day” in golf tournaments, the Saturday round where the Thursday and Friday pretenders are culled from the field. On moving day, the golfers are positioning for an incredible final round on Sunday and a tournament win. We’re at “moving week” in training camp right now; the roster is down to a manageable size and the competition becomes even more fierce.
We’ve got two weeks left in training camp. Two weeks are gone. The remaining preseason scrimmage games are against Pittsburgh (Saturday night), Minnesota (Tuesday night, at home), Buffalo (Wednesday night) and Carolina (Thursday night, at home). Then a week off from inter-squad game play, and we’re on to opening night on October 4. Expect that the final week will involve some fine-tuning for chemistry and health (recuperative) purposes. That means we only have one week – this week coming up – to see any radical change take place.
This is it. Training camp is getting very real, very quickly.