Last week Wednesday, Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford held court with the media and I was able to slip my recorder into the mix. Some of this info can be found on other sites, but these questions and answers are pretty interesting and well worth discussing here.
Rutherford is usually pretty laid back in front of the media and it's a bit unusual if he calls out any of his players in public. But he came pretty close to doing that in this interview scrum when one reporter asked him about Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov, and Chad LaRose. He responded with the following:
"All three guy's best years, while in Carolina, were their contract years. And now all three guys are in contract years. So we need those guys to step up. They are capable of stepping up and they are at the crossroads of where their career goes right now. If history comes true again and they have their best year in their contract year, then this team is probably heading to the playoffs."
No need to read between the lines there. More of Jim Rutherford after the jump:
You probably have more depth in the organization then at any time in the past and eight or nine guys could possibly make their NHL debut this season. Does this energize you as a general manager in that, hey, I'm really building something here?
Yes, it is. We built this team twice really. We built it and went to the finals in 2002, we built it again and won the Cup in 2006, and now we are in the third rebuild. And it's always been fun for me. But it's not just fun for me, it's fun for you guys, it's fun for the fans. You watch these players grow and even if they struggle for a little bit, they're going to come with a lot of energy, they're going to have fun playing the game, and they're going to get better and better. If the team doesn't come together this year, like we'd like it to, it will within the next two to three years. There are enough good players and structure here that this team is going to get very good again, and hopefully it starts right this year. It might because there are some young guys who have huge upsides and who knows when the Skinners and these other guys can make the big step? It might be right away. We hope so.
Have there been any thoughts given to additions to the roster or tryouts at camp?
We're probably going to bring in a couple of guys on tryouts with NHL experience and maybe even sign a guy on a two-way contract who has NHL experience. This is the point in free agency that most people kind of forget about. People get all excited about July 1, 2, 3, and 4. But the fact of the matter is that excitement goes away pretty quick because not a lot of championships are won on that date. And not a lot of championships are won now, at this point I'm referring about in free agency, but the deals make more sense and there are guys who are out there who didn't get contracts, or who didn't get what they wanted, so we might jump in and grab a couple of those guys. But, I don't want to sign those guys to one-way contracts because I've told our young guys that these spots are open. I don't want to close the door on them, they have worked so hard to come in and try to earn that spot. If it doesn't work six weeks into the season, then I'll start to make adjustments, but I think it's going to work out.
Guys like Skinner, who basically have a clock ticking on them because you have to make a decision within 10 games to keep them or not, does that become a consideration, or is the decision based solely upon his performance?
Just how he plays. We'll be able to tell real quick. If he has a good camp, we sign him. He makes the team. If he's going good in the first 10 games, he stays here. If he's struggling or it's too early for him to keep up the pace, then we'll send him back for more confidence. But this will be a fun guy to watch. I've gotten a lot of messages from people who were at the World Juniors Camp about what a special player this is and a special person. And a couple of people have called me up after watching him workout with other NHL guys and they said this guy is really special. So, this will be exciting to watch.
Erik Cole, Chad LaRose, and Sergei Samsonov did not have the best of years last year, but they are your veteran wingers now. Do these players need to play at the top of their game in order for the team to be competitive this year?
There's one other factor to it. All three guy's best years, while in Carolina, were their contract years. And now all three guys are in contract years. So we need those guys to step up. They are capable of stepping up and they are at the crossroads of where their career goes right now. If history comes true again and they have their best year in their contract year, then this team is probably heading to the playoffs.
Sergei Samsonov is a player with a lot of skill and it seems like he could do very well with the right linemates?
He definitely can. Even with the ice time he got last year, he still got 14 goals. He got himself into a little trouble at different points in the year from a defense point of view, in his own end, and getting the puck out of his own end, then his ice time kind of dropped back. But he's a very capable guy. He's only 32 years old. I expect a big year from him, as well as Cole and LaRose.
This is kind of a transition year in that players like Eric, Cam, and Tuomo, who used to be the young guys. Now this year, all of a sudden they are the older guys. Do you think it will affect the team, having these players hungry to be leaders and they are all about the same age?
Yep. First of all, it's a team that's going to have a new leader from the start of camp. We have been very, very fortunate here in that we have had great leaders like Ronnie Francis, then Rod Brind`Amour, and now Eric Staal gets it right from the start of the season. So there is young leadership and a lot of good character on the team. People talk about us having a young team, but if you look at our top six forwards and our top four defensemen, you know? These guys are pretty good. And we have one of the best goalies in the league. So there are a lot of good things in the mix of this team. But the young energy and emotion of it will be a change for the team. It will be fun to watch.
Without making any additions or signings, how confident are you in the make up of the team right now?
I can't stand here and answer that because there are unknowns. Who is going to get those spots? How ready are the young guys to play at this pace and play in an 82 game schedule? That's going to be the key. I'm real confident in the direction we're going and I do think we'll be very competitive and have a chance to be a playoff team. Once this team gets in the playoffs, with the makeup of the team, the leadership, and the goalie we have, we could contend for the Cup again. We just need to get to the playoffs.
Can you talk about the advantage of having the farm club just three hours away and shuffling players back and forth?
This is great. Having a team in Charlotte is not only good for the organization, it's big for hockey in the state. We have a bigger footprint of professional hockey in North Carolina. The other part of it is, while getting the players up and down is important, you also need to get the right people in to help to develop them. Jeff Daniels does a great job as a coach and having Roddy Brind`Amour go in there and Glen Wesley, and even Ronnie Francis, with all the duties he has as the Director of Player Personnel and Associate Coach, he can even slide down to Charlotte, where he could not get up to Albany. It's a huge advantage for us.
After the slow start last season, are you concerned about starting this year off with so many games away from home?
Yes, and then when we do get home we have to play against Washington and Pittsburgh, no easy task. It's going to be a really good test for us. It's going to be different, but it's going to be a good chance for the team to bond. We're going to have some new players and we'll be on the road, and the coaches will be setting up some nice functions for them so they can really get to know each other. There's no question our start is going to be hard, but if we can pass that test, that might be the ultimate test that helps to define our year.