That’s the predicament the Checkers find themselves in at the current moment, with A.J. Jenks and Chad LaRose the latest casualties. Following Friday morning’s practice, coach Jeff Daniels confirmed that the team has released Jenks from his professional tryout contract, while LaRose, who is tied for the Checkers’ scoring lead with 17 points, is questionable to play this weekend’s games against Texas due to an injury that kept him out of the team’s last game on Wednesday.
While the Checkers have released their fair share of tryout players over the course of the season as the need for outside players subsides from time to time, the case of Jenks is different. When the 24-year-old center passed the 25-game mark under his first tryout contract signed in October, the two sides agreed that he would finish the team’s just-completed three-game road trip on a temporary basis (a second PTO) and revisit after.
That re-visitation occurred Friday morning, and the two sides decided to part ways.
“We had an open conversation,” said Daniels. “If there was nothing that we could do to make it an AHL contract, he was probably going to go back to (ECHL) Toledo and try to find something more permanent elsewhere.
“It came to that point this morning where I wasn’t in a position to give him that full commitment. It was a decision by him that I supported because I wanted him to do what’s best for Jenksy.”
Jenks, who scored six points (2g, 4a) in 27 games over the course of his third tour of duty with the Checkers, only played one game with Toledo prior to joining the Checkers on Oct. 24. With LaRose potentially unable to play, Daniels will likely need to find another PTO to replace Jenks in time for the first of back-to-back games against the Stars on Saturday night.
Given the team’s season-long struggles to find healthy and capable bodies at the position, that player could very well be another center, though Daniels had not yet made a final call in that regard.
“We’ll reassess once we get in the room what we can do and what our lines might look like before we make a decision,” he said.
An offensive-minded player could also be the goal, with the losses LaRose and defenseman Ryan Murphy, the latter of whom joined the Carolina Hurricanes via recall earlier in the week, potentially leaving the team without each of its top two scorers. With Greg Nemisz out for the season, three of the Checkers’ top four in terms of points could very well be absent.
“We just have to make sure the compete level is high and make sure we’re working,” said Daniels of trying to score goals – a season long struggle – without those players. “We’ve got to be a team that commits to that 60 minutes of work and hopefully get some timely goals. Our game’s not going to change. Obviously Rosey and Murph are a big part of our team, but it is what it is right now and we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Another situation to monitor will be a “flu bug” that has made its way through the team over the past week. Aside from Brendan Woods, who wasn’t able to play Sunday’s game after making the trip down from Carolina, no one has missed games because of it, though Daniels thought it was partially to blame for what he felt was a low energy level in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss in Oklahoma City.
“It’s still kicking around a little bit but it’s more on the tail end of it,” said Daniels. “It’s more than a 24-hour thing and guys have been battling it all week long.
“When you play a sport, one guy gets it and the whole locker room gets it, especially on the road where you’re always together. It’s a matter of time before it went through the room and it definitely caught up to us this week.”
His voice sounding a little different than usual while making those comments, Daniels admitted that he was not immune.
“I definitely got it,” he said. “I’m no different from anyone else with showing up to work and being ready to go. It definitely drains you a little bit, but there’s no excuses for the way we played the other night. We just weren’t sharp
Whatever the reason, the Checkers will be left to piece things together from what they have and are able to bring in as they attempt to snap a three-game losing streak and get back to the positive momentum they enjoyed prior to the holiday break.
“I think so, probably with the injuries right now and not having the depth we’ve had in the past,” said Daniels when asked if the current roster is as thin as it’s been all season. “We’ve been able to bring guys in, give them a good look and see if they’re capable of playing at this level. We’ll regroup and be ready to go tomorrow night.”
The Checkers practiced with a small group on Friday, though goaltender Drew MacIntyre, who received the day off to shake jet lag from his Spengler Cup trip to Switzerland, and Jared Staal, who left to attend a personal matter, should be available. Brody Sutter, who is practicing with a yellow jersey, and Beau Schmitz, who is not skating and is “not close” to returning, according to Daniels, will remain sidelined.
With MacIntyre back on North American soil, the Checkers reassigned goalie Daniel Altshuller to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. Carolina’s third-round pick in 2012, he provided back up to John Muse for all three games that MacIntyre missed and is still awaiting his AHL debut.