Cory Stillman practices Friday in preparation for his return as a Hurricane. He is the latest in a string of players who have been reacquired by GM Jim Rutherford. (Photo by LTD)
When word came down that the Hurricanes had reacquired veteran winger Cory Stillman from the Florida Panthers to help them down the stretch in their quest for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, no one was surprised to hear Carolina GM Jim Rutherford had again brought back an ex-Cane. The old idiom goes that familiarity breeds contempt, but Rutherford has made it part of his reputation to bring back players from the past. The organization has never hesitated to bring back off-ice assistance either. Paul Maurice, Jason Karmanos, Tom Barrasso, Robert Kron and Sheldon Ferguson are all coaches, scouts or front office personnel who have left the organization and come back in the same or a different capacity.
I've compiled a (likely incomplete) chronogical list of all of the players Rutherford has brought back to Carolina. Some have led to success, while others didn't.Ron Francis (reacquired July 13, 1998)
Originally acquired: First round pick in the 1981 Entry Draft by Hartford
Reason for leaving: Traded to Pittsburgh March 4, 1991
The Comeback: The signing of Francis in Carolina gave the franchise respectability around the league and in the area. He posted five straight 50-point seasons from 1998-99 through 2002-03, and was dealt in his final season to the Maple Leafs at the 2004 trade deadline. He retired following the lockout. The highlight of his career in Raleigh was leading the team to the Stanley Cup FInals in 2002, in which he scored the overtime winner in Game 1, the only game Carolina won in the five-game series with Detroit.
Grade: A+ — Francis was the franchise during it's early years.
Jeff Daniels (reacquired Aug. 31, 1999)
Originally acquired: Signed by Hartford Aug. 18, 1995
Reason for leaving: Claimed by Nashville in the 1998 Expansion Draft
The Comeback: Daniels was nothing more than a fourth-line grinder, but his return to Carolina for the 1999-2000 season has to be deemed a success. He played 260 games for the Canes over the next four seasons before retiring Nov. 17, 2003, after missing the first 13 games of the 2003-04 campaign with a groin injury.
Grade: B+ — Daniels was a reliable role player, and then went on to be an assistant coach on the Cup-winning team in 2006 and is currently the general manager and head coach for Carolina's AHL affiliate in Charlotte.
Sean Hill (reacquired Dec. 5, 2001)
Originally acquired: Traded from Senators on Nov. 18, 1997, for Chris Murray
Reason for leaving: Signed by St. Louis as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2000
The Comeback: Hill's best seasons came in Carolina. He twice scored 13 goals in a season with the Canes (once in his first stint, then again after his reacquisition) but never had more than seven elsewhere. He left for St. Louis as a UFA in 2000, but was brought back in December of the following year in a package that sent Steve Halko and a fourth round pick to the Blues. His mix of physicality and offensive ability served him well in Carolina, and he was a key part in the team's 2002 run to the Cup Finals.
Grade: B+ — Hill's best years came with the Canes, and he was a key offensive and physical threat during the Cup Finals run in 2002.
Steve Halko (reacquired Aug. 5, 2002)
Originally acquired: 10th round pick in the 1992 Entry Draft by Hartford
Reason for leaving: Traded to St. Louis Dec. 5, 2001, in the aforementioned package that landed Carolina Sean Hill
The Comeback: Halko played 155 NHL games without ever scoring, and he played just six NHL games after he was brought back for the 2002-03 campaign. He was out of hockey after the season.
Grade: C- — Little risk, little reward.
Glen Wesley (reacquired July 8, 2003)
Originally acquired: Traded from Boston on Aug. 26, 1994, to Hartford for three first round picks
Reason for leaving: Traded to Toronto on March 9, 2003, for a second round pick
The Comeback: Wesley's departure was brief. He spent the balance of the 2002-03 season and playoffs with the Leafs, then came back to Carolina that offseason. He was the shutdown defender on the 2006 championship team, and had his number retired by the franchise Feb. 17, 2009.
The Grade: A — Wesley is a franchise icon and one of the more underrated defenders of his era. He is still with the organization as director of defensemen development.
Craig Adams (reacquired Oct. 3, 2005)
Originally acquired: Ninth round pick in the 1996 Entry Draft by Hartford
Reason for leaving: Signed by Anaheim as an unrestricted free agent on Aug 25, 2005
The Comeback: Adams' time away from the Canes was brief. Rutherford dealt Bruno St. Jacques to the Ducks right before the start of the 2005-06 season to get Adams back, and the result was the "Adams Family Line," a fourth line anchored with Kevyn Adams that helped lead Carolina to the Cup in 2006. He was later dealt to Chicago and then landed in Pittsburgh, where he won another Cup in 2009 in a similar role.
The Grade: B+ — It's hard to say if Carolina would have fallen short of the Cup without Adams in 2006, but he was definitely a key part of what the team accomplished.
Shane Willis (reacquired July 18, 2006)
Originally acquired: Fourth round pick in 1997 Entry Draft by Carolina
Reason for leaving: Traded with Chris Dingman to Tampa Bay on March 5, 2002, for Kevin Weekes
The Comeback: Willis' bright career was dimmed by a Scott Stevens hit in 2001 that set off a string of concussion issues. He played just 12 games for the Lightning and spent time in the minors before Rutherford gave him another chance in 2006. He had 43 points in 43 games with the team's top affiliate in Albany but never made it back to the NHL and is now out of hockey.
Grade: C- — Rutherford gave Willis a chance, but the comeback was not meant to be.
Jesse Boulerice (reacquired Aug. 2, 2006)
Originally acquired: Traded from Philadelphia on Feb. 13, 2002, for Greg Koehler
Reason for leaving: Traded with players and picks to St. Louis on Jan. 30, 2006, for Doug Weight and a prospect
The Comeback: Rutherford re-signed Boulerice after winning the Cup, but he didn't make it back into a Hurricanes sweater. He's played just seven NHL games since then (five with Philadelphia, two with Edmonton), spending most of his time in the AHL. He is currently under contract with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after not earning an NHL contract in a tryout with the Pens prior to this season.
Grade: C- — Boulerice was a fan favorite, but he never made it back to the NHL after Rutherford brought him back.
Ryan Bayda (reacquired Aug. 4, 2006)
Originally acquired: Third round pick in 2000 Entry Draft by Carolina
Reason for leaving: Signed with AHL's Manitoba Moose Jan. 1, 2006, during the lockout
The Comeback: Bayda played the lockout season with Carolina's affiliate in Lowell, but was not re-signed following the season. He signed an AHL deal with Manitoba for 2005-06, then was signed by Rutherford the following offseason. Over the next three seasons he played 110 games for the Canes, registering nine goals and 11 assists in a checking role. He wasn't re-signed, then spent a season in the Penguins organization and now plays in Germany.
Grade: B — Bayda was a role player for three seasons and was a solid playoff contributor in 2009, but never grew into a full-time NHLer.
David Tanabe (reacquired Aug. 29, 2006)
Originally acquired: First round pick in the 1999 Entry Draft by Carolina
Reason for leaving: Traded with Igor Knyazev to Phoenix on June 21, 2003, for Danny Markov and a pick
The Comeback: Tanabe jumped right to the NHL in 1999, playing 33 games with Carolina that season, and became a mainstay on the blueline through 2002-03. But his potential never panned out on the ice, and he was traded to the Coyotes in 2003. Rutherford brought him back as a free agent in 2006, but Tanabe struggled with injuries, including the concussion problems that led to an ugly split from the team and his eventual retirement.
The Grade: F — Not only did Tanabe not work out the second go-around, but the he-said/she-said debate about the severity of his concussion issues was a black mark for the Canes.
Josef Vasicek (reacquired Feb. 9, 2007)
Originally acquired: Fourth round pick in the 1998 Entry Draft by Carolina
Reason for leaving: Traded to Nashville on July 18, 2006, for Scott Walker
The Comeback: Vasicek, like Stillman Thursday, was acquired near the trade deadline (for Eric Belanger) to give the Canes a familiar piece in their push to the postseason. Vasicek won a Cup with Carolina in 2006, but it was in a small role despite having been the team's leading scorer the season before the lockout. He was unsuccessful with the Predators and that carried over in Carolina, where he had nine points in 25 games as the Hurricanes fell short of the postseason. He played one more year in the NHL (with the Islanders) before moving on to the KHL, where he has been one of the league's top scorers.
Grade: D- — A comeback that simply didn't work. Despite his enormous frame, Vasicek never learned to use his body to his advantage. His inability to mesh his skill with his size was frustrating in his first stint and his return.
Matt Cullen (reacquired July 17, 2007)
Originally acquired: Signed by Carolina Aug. 5, 2004
Reason for leaving: Signed by the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2006
The Comeback: Cullen cashed in on his success with the 2006 Cup-winning team, signing a lucrative deal with the Rangers. But after an average season in the Big Apple, Rutherford brought Cullen back to Raleigh by trading Andrew Hutchinson, Joe Barnes and a third-round pick to New York. Cullen, like Hill, has had his best seasons with Carolina, and had three straight 40-point seasons before he was dealt at last season's trade deadline to Ottawa.
The Grade: B — Cullen's contract was steep, but Rutherford got a player who was adored by fans and fit the role that was needed. He never matched his 2005-06 season nor his success that postseason (though he had eight points in six games for the Senators in last year's playoffs), but he was a solid contributor and will always be remembered as arguably the Canes' best skater in Game 7 of the 2006 Cup Finals vs. Edmonton.
Anton Babchuk (reacquired July 1, 2008 & July 1, 2010)
Originally acquired: Traded from Chicago Jan. 20, 2006, for Danny Richmond
Reason for leaving: Twice signed in Russia rather than re-signing with the Canes as a restricted free agent
The Comeback: Babchuk came to his senses twice, returning to Carolina for the 2008-09 season and again this year after separate one-year stints in Russia and the KHL. He had 16 goals in 2008-09, but thought he was worth more than the offer Rutherford made following the season and again went to Russia. He came back prior to this season, but played just 17 games before he was shipped to Calgary on Nov. 17, along with Tom Kostopoulos, for Ian White and Brett Sutter.
The Grade: B- — Babchuk was a headache, but his contributions during the 2008-09 regular season were significant. Unfortunately, he was shut down offensively in the postseason and his one-sided game didn't lead Rutherford to offer him a significant raise. Babchuk left again, then came back to start this year, but he was sent to Calgary where he has 21 points in 45 games.
Jeff O'Neill (reacquired [kind of] Sept. 4, 2008)
Originally acquired: First round pick in the 1994 Entry Draft by Hartford
Reason for leaving: Traded to Toronto on July 30, 2005, for a conditional draft pick
The Comeback: Carolina never signed O'Neill in the summer of 2008, but rather offered him a comeback opportunity as a training camp invitee. He played in three exhibition games (plus the Red/White scrimmage), but was overshadowed by fellow invitee Dan LaCouture. O'Neill and the team mutually ended the tryout and O'Neill didn't catch on elsewhere, ending his NHL career.
The Grade: C — There was no risk to the Canes as O'Neill was not paid for trying out. Other than crazy expectations being smothered by O'Neill's failure to earn a deal, the Hurricanes lost nothing in giving their former sniper a chance. But it still felt desperate, even if Rutherford was simply giving an old friend one last shot.
Erik Cole (reacquired March 4, 2009)
Originally acquired: Third round draft in the 1993 Entry Draft by Carolina
Reason for leaving: Traded to Edmonton on July 1, 2008, for Joni Pitkanen
The Comeback: With the playoffs within reach, Rutherford shipped out the constantly injured Justin Williams on March 4, 2009, in a three-way trade (that also included Patrick O'Sullivan) that landed Cole, an inspirational hero of the 2006 Cup team. He had just two goals down the stretch, but finished with 15 points in 17 games. He managed just five assists in 18 playoff games that year as Carolina reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Rutherford re-signed him in the offseason, and after a down year filled with injuries in 2009-10, he's been a key component of Carolina's success this season.
The Grade: B — Cole was good, not great, during the 2008 run, but he's been invaluable to this year's team, both as a leader and on-ice contributor. But while Williams was oft-injured, one wonders if he could have had the season he's had this year in Los Angeles (20-28-48 in 61 games) if he was still with the Canes.
Aaron Ward (reacquired July 24, 2009)
Originally acquired: Traded from Detroit on July 9, 2001, for a second round pick
Reason for leaving: Signed by the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent on July 3, 2006
The Comeback: Ward had four goals in 95 career playoff games, but one came in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. So while Ward was known for his defensive play, the nostalgia of his efforts in that game and that season made his re-acquisition — for Patrick Eaves and a fourth round pick — welcome in the Triangle. Unfortunately, Ward struggled throughout the 2009-10 season (helped along by an undisclosed injury) and both he and the fans grew frustrated with each other. He was eventually sent to Anaheim at the deadline for Justin Pogge and a draft pick, and retired following the season.
The Grade: F — This was a tough one to swallow because, despite playing recent seasons in New York and Boston, Ward still called the Triangle home. The blame he faced for the Hurricanes terrible start to the 2009-10 season soured an otherwise great relationship and left a bitter taste in Ward's mouth and altered an otherwise rock-solid relationship with the fan base. The good news is, it seems both parties have let bygones be bygones and Ward has been re-embraced by the community.
Manny Legace (reacquired Nov. 9, 2009)
Originally acquired: Eighth round pick in the 1993 Entry Draft by Hartford
Reason for leaving: Traded to Los Angeles on July 31, 1998, for future considerations
The Comeback: Legace never played for the Whalers or Canes in his first stop, but was in the team's system until he was dealt to Los Angeles. He was brought to Carolina last season — after several years in the Western Conference, including a stint as the No. 1 goalie in Detroit — when Cam Ward was injured, and he performed well in 30 games with the team.
The Grade: C — Legace was serviceable with Carolina, but no better than rookie Justin Peters, who earned the backup job this season. Coupled with the success of Michael Leighton in Philadelphia (he was waived to make way for the Legace/Peters duo), Legace's time split with Peters wasn't a success nor a failure.
Joe Corvo (reacquired July 7, 2010)
The Comeback: After a failed playoff run in Washington, Corvo re-signed with the Canes this past offseason and is having one of his best NHL campaigns. He is on pace to break his career high of 40 points and is an underrated defender who is often charged with taking on the opposition's top weapons.
The Grade: A- — Corvo came back for less money but has been a better player, playing with more consistency in his game and not succumbing to the streakiness that surrounded him most of his career.
Patrick O`Sullivan (reacquired Sept. 17, 2010)
Originally acquired: Part of a three-way traded involving Erik Cole and Justin Williams on March 4, 2009, that saw him shipped from the Kings to Carolina, then to Edmonton
Reason for leaving: See above. He never even set foot on a plane for Raleigh
The Comeback: While his first go-around as a Hurricane was pretty much just a paperwork thing, O'Sullivan earned an invitiation to camp this summer and won a two-way contract that saw him land a roster spot to start the season. While he was at times electric in the preseason, O'Sullivan's role diminished once the season started and he was unable to seize any opportunity to gain more ice time. He was placed on waivers and claimed by Minnesota, who has since also waived him and assigned him to their AHL affiliate.
The Grade: D — It was a nice story — North Carolina's own comes back to the state despite his troubled past here — but O'Sullivan didn't grab the bull by the horns when given the chance and eventually ended up back in the minors with the Wild's affiliate. The risk was minimal for Rutherford, since O'Sullivan's deal was a two-way contract, but this failure stung a little more because of the past involved.
Cory Stillman (reacquired Feb. 24, 2011)
Originally acquired: Signed on Aug. 2, 2005, by Carolina
Reason for leaving: Traded with Mike Commodore to Ottawa on Feb. 11, 2008, for Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves
The Comeback: Rutherford again reaches in to the past to bring back a player from the 2006 championship team. Will it work? The adventure starts tonight, as Stillman is set to be reunited with Staal and Cole on Carolina's top line.
The Grade: To be detemined