Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford is sorting through his roster, deciding which players are part of his nucleus and which ones are not.
Center Eric Staal and goaltender Cam Ward clearly are keepers. Rutherford decided defenseman Tim Gleason belonged in the nucleus, too, so he negotiated a four-year, $16 million extension with him.
Now Rutherford wants to work a similar deal with gritty forward Tuomo Ruutu.
“Tuomo is a player we really like, and he said he likes being with the team,” Rutherford told the Raleigh News & Observer. “That's an important first step and we had a good meeting. The next hurdle may be the bigger hurdle, but at least we know we're on the same page.”
That next hurdle is negotiating a contract extension for the pending free agent. Ruutu turns 29 this month. How many years and how many dollars would he need to re-up?
“We need to make a decision and he needs to make a decision,” Rutherford said.
If Rutherford can’t reach a deal in the next week or so, he could move Ruutu to one of several contenders seeking to acquire him in a trade. His reported asking price would be a first-round pick AND a good prospect.
That is a steep price to pay for a third-line player, but Ruutu could add scoring touch and some sandpaper to the front lines of a Stanley Cup hopeful.
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen is recovering from knee surgery, but not as quickly as the team hoped. He may not return to action until early March – well after the NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadline passes.
But that won’t stop Carolina from entertaining trade offers for veteran defensemen Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek. Each of those players will become unrestricted free agents after the season and Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford is looking to retool with younger players.
Each of those defensemen could have value to contending teams looking to rent some help. The Flyers, for instance, are looking to fortify their blue line after losing Chris Pronger to a season-ending concussion.
“Despite all the talk that people stir up, I'm approaching it at this stage as being more interested in hockey trades and not deadline trades or trading UFAs,” Rutherford told the Raleigh News & Observer. “If something makes sense for our organization and from a financial point of view, if it seems like something we should do, I'll do it. But I'm not out there making all the calls looking to make trades.
“If we were to trade a UFA for a veteran player, we would want control of him next year or the next few years. Usually, we have looked to bring in younger players, but a hockey deal where a veteran player is under contract also is a possibility.”
Andre Markov’s misfortune was Carolina GM Jim Rutherford’s gain.
Rutherford made a huge mistake signing defenseman Tomas Kaberle to a big free agency deal. Kaberle continued the listless play that confounded the Bruins last spring.
Surely there was no way the Hurricanes could offload Kaberle’s contract, right?
Wrong. With the hard-luck Markov needed addition recovery time after another knee operation, the Canadiens needed some offensive help on the blue line. The Habs were desperate, in fact, given their generally substandard play.
So Rutherford was able to dump Kaberle and his remaining contract – more than 2 ½ years at $4.25 million per – to Montreal for defenseman Jaroslav Spacek and his expiring contract.
Whew! That is gigantic payroll relief, which helps Rutherford save face with his owners and possible position himself for another trade to juice his team.
As for the Habs, they earned this rebuke from Edmonton Journal scribe Jim Matheson: "Can't imagine the Habs' pro scouts in unison said "we have to have this Kaberle" after watching him. This is all on GM Pierre Gauthier."
To nobody’s surprise, Paul Maurice got the short haircut again in Carolina. The Hurricanes became moribund this season on his watch, falling to 8-13-4 and 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
So his second stint as the team’s head coach ended as the first one did, in disappointment. After pondering his options for several days, general manager Jim Rutherford finally offered Maurice’s job to Milwaukee Admirals coach Kirk Muller.
Muller, an elite two-way center during his NHL playing career, will work with the holdover assistant coaches, Dave Lewis, Rod Brind ‘Amour and Tom Barrasso. They have a lot of work to do to bring a stale squad back to life.
Here are some of Rutherford’s thoughts from the introductory news conference:
“I've talked to Kirk for 7-10 days. After going through that process of all the possibilities, clearly Kirk was our No. 1 choice.”
“We may win our first game or first three games, but what I'm really looking for are new ideas. What I also will look for is a consistent work ethic.”
“We have to get that consistent work ethic. It will take some time to get (Muller's) ideas and system in place. Then, we can get the confidence back and hopefully then the wins will come.”
Well, we’ll see.
More changes are likely in Carolina. Rutherford told the Raleigh News and Observer that he remains in active pursuit of help at forward. Stay tuned.
Columbus hasn’t fired anybody on the coaching or managerial staff yet, despite rampant speculation that change is imminent.
But the Blue Jackets did acquire Mark Letestu from Pittsburgh for a fourth-round pick. Letestu scored 14 goals last season while filling in at center, but he had no goals in 11 games this season.
We are advised that this trade does NOT signal the imminent return of Sidney Crosby. There was some thought Sid the Kid could play Friday, but the team continues to stonewall inquiries about Crosby's health.
Elsewhere in the NHL:
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford declared himself on the prowl for roster reinforcements. And we may finally see some significant player movement, given the surprising struggle of assorted teams.
The Lightning, already on the lookout for defensive help, have both Mattias Ohlund (knee) and Victor Hedman (upper body) out of action. Presumably Steve Yzerman is working the phones.
Nikita Filatov’s next stop might be the KHL. He earned just one assist in six games for the Senators and played his way back to the AHL.
With forward Mike Rupp (knee surgery) and Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia) out for some time, the Rangers find their front-line depth compromised.
Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom is down in the AHL getting regular work while Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen handle the duties. But the franchise still believes he is a star in the making.
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