The Carolina Hurricanes have covered a lot of ground on Thursday and Friday in preparation for a busy off-season.
The roller coaster negotiation period is over. Before free agency officially opened on Friday, the Hurricanes reached an agreement to sign Finish player Jussi Jokinen to a three year contract. Jokinen will make $3 million a year with the Hurricanes. What seemed impossible just two weeks ago became a reality on Thursday. The Hurricanes were able to re-sign both Joni Pitkanen and Jokinen when it seemed highly unlikely either player would negotiate with the Hurricanes.
Pitkanen and Jokinen have great chemistry on the ice and now the spectacular second line of Tuomo Ruutu, Jeff Skinner and Jokinen may remain intact. Jokinen has played all three forward positions since joining the Hurricanes and this past season he recorded 52 points with 19 goals. The question now is how do the Canes plan to address their two open spots on the top line.
That’s right. With the Jokinen signing, the Hurricanes had to let another star go.
It didn’t take first line forward Erik Cole too long to make up his mind and leave Carolina. He claimed that he wanted to test the market yet he signed with a team less than 10 hours after free agency opened. If you want my opinion, regardless of what Cole’s agent said, this was a huge slap in the face to the Hurricanes’ franchise. Cole listened to the Hurricanes final offer at noon on Friday before he signed with the Montreal Canadiens to a four year, $18 million contract. Though the Hurricanes did not release a statement on how much they offered Cole, it had to be a similar contract to Jokinen’s. Given that he never countered the Hurricanes offer, it seems that Cole had his mind set on leaving for quite a while.
The 32-year-old forward wanted security (years on contract) because he is getting old and the Canadiens offered him $1.5 million more per year than the Hurricanes were most likely offering. Rutherford said that Cole is going to be hard to replace next season.
“There’s a void there now. Erik is a special talent, in the way he skates. He brings an element to the team that will be hard to fill,” Rutherford said.
With such a weak free agent market in terms of top line talent, it appears most likely that prospect Zac Dalpe may be playing in the top three lines and the powerful second line may have to split. It makes sense for Skinner to skate next to Staal on top line and have Brandon Sutter center Jokinen and Ruutu just like he did two seasons ago. Cory Stillman could still keep his locker in Carolina for one more season. The Hurricanes have reached out to the veteran a few times this summer and they have enough money to offer him a one year, $1 million contract.
Enough of the Cole curveball. Let’s get into the new Hurricane acquisitions. Rutherford mentioned that the team needs this off-season are a veteran backup goalie and a third line forward to add some depth. The Canes added some of that depth when they re-signed Jiri Tlusty to a one year contract.
But the biggest addition was the signing of Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Los Angeles Kings. Ponikarovsky would be a killer forward on the third line but there is still a chance he sneaks into the top two lines. He missed 18 games last season and tallied 15 points for the Kings but the 31-year-old left wing could help the Hurricanes’ system because he knows how to move the puck and get to the net. He signed a one year contract worth $1.5 million.
The Canes addressed their goaltender needs by agreeing to terms with former Philadelphia Flyer Brian Boucher. Boucher, 34, went 18-10-4 with a 2.42 GAA and .916 save percentage last season. The Canes have his duties for two years at one million dollars each year. He will compliment Cam Ward nicely between the pipes and is a reliable backup who could potentially give Ward a couple extra days off. The Hurricanes will be the seventh club Boucher has suited up for.
Finally, the Hurricanes signed Maple Leafs center Tim Brent to a two year, $1.5 million contract. Brent is just 27 years old and he recorded 20 points on the Leafs third line last season. He looks to be the leading candidate to win the third line center role in Carolina, especially considering he played with Ponikarovsky when they were both in Toronto. They also added an AHL enforcer in Justin Soryal who accumulated 220 penalty minutes with the Rangers organization last season. Carolina got him for one year and a mere $80,000 in the minors. If he gets called up to the Hurricanes, he will make $525,000.
The Hurricanes have already addressed all their needs going into free agency. The question to be asked now is if the Canes can acquire another top line forward to give the Canes staff options during training camp. As of now, it appears Stillman is the best bet.