PORTLAND — It is not business as usual for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Because of the player lockout, most of the men in the hockey operations side of the NHL team will spend a lot of time with the Portland Pirates to prepare their players for an AHL season that starts in less than two weeks and an NHL season with a starting date that has yet to be determined.
Normally, relatively few members of the Coyotes’ coaching staff ventures east to spend time with the club’s AHL affiliate, but this season is different.
The Pirates are starting from scratch.
“We would have started this camp around the same time, but we probably wouldn’t have all of these guys here at the start of camp and they would have been two or three weeks into (training) camp before coming here,” Phoenix assistant general manage Brad Treliving said.
The lockout forced the cancellation of Phoenix’s rookie camp, which was scheduled to start Sept. 14, and its main training camp, which was schedule to start Sept. 21.
On Friday, Phoenix head coach Dave Tippet, who arrived in Maine on Thursday night, met with the Portland coaching staff.
“In the past, three or four days before camp (in Phoenix), he would have had all of his coaches meetings,” Treliving said. “Now, he’s just brought the coaches’ meetings here.”
On Saturday, the 31 players at the Portland training camp went through medical exams and fitness tests.
“Traditionally, whatever they went through (Saturday), that would have been day one of training camp in Phoenix,” Treliving said. “The guys in Portland would have all done this before they got here. We replicated all the physicals and fitness tests here.”
Today, the AHL team’s first on-ice practice sessions will start at 8:50 a.m. at the Portland Ice Arena.
Tippett, entering his fourth season with the Coyotes after spending five seasons as head coach of the Dallas Stars, expects to spend no more than six days on his current trip.
“I’m just going to observe three or four days of practice and have a chance to mingle with some of the new players I haven’t met before and some of the guys who spent time with us last year who I think are going to be important to our success,” he said.
After Tippett leaves town, Phoenix associate coach Jim Playfair, who works with the defensemen, will follow him in. When Playfair leaves, assistant coach John Anderson, who works with the forwards, will arrive.
“We’ll keep rotating them in,” Treliving said. “We already have got (coaching staff) here, and there just isn’t enough room for everybody (at the same time).”
The Coyotes’ head of player of development, Dave King, former head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary Flames, also will be setting up shop in Portland.
“Each guy brings a little something (different),” Tippett said. “It just keeps you in touch with what’s going on in our organization right now.”
If and when the NHL starts up again, the Coyotes want to be ready to play.
“When you get back, and maybe you don’t have a full season, every game becomes much critical,” Tippett said. “One of the biggest things we stress in Phoenix is consistency in our game. This will put even more emphasis on the consistency because if you get in and get off to a slow start, it could cost you a playoff spot. We want to get up running in a hurry, and we want to get up and run well in a hurry.”
It is a very important training camp for the players.
“Whenever (the lockout) ends, you know it’s not going to be normal,” Treliving said. “You’re not going to be coming to camp to try out for the team. Whoever’s playing the best here, whenever this thing ends, is going to be called up. The players have to know that this is their evaluation for us to get a sense of what they’ve got … Tryouts started today, and it’s going to be ongoing. Every practice is important.”
NHL teams are limited to 23 players. Currently, the Coyotes, in their season as the Pirates’ parent, are carrying 20 players on their roster — 13 forwards, five defensemen and two goalies.
“Going back the last few years, we’ve always had 21 or 22 players,” Treliving said.
Two or three of the players in the Portland training camp could move up.
“This is unique for the players here because they have an opportunity to separate themselves within their group here,” Tippett said. “If we get into any kind of shortened season, and you’re inevitably going to have injuries, here or there, you’re going to need a lot of people … You’re going to look down (to Portland) to who’s playing best, and that’s the guy who is going to move up. The opportunity is real for a lot of these guys. It’s a very important camp.”