On the opening day of NHL free agency for the 2011-12 season, the Carolina Hurricanes filled a couple of holes in their lineup, but they also lost a key player which created an even bigger hole.
The Canes signed one of their former, unqualified RFA's, Jiri Tlusty to a one year deal, ($525,000). They went out on the market and signed center Tim Brent, formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs to a two-year deal, ($700,000 in year one and $800,000 in year two). They locked up backup goalie Brian Boucher for two years, ($900,000 in year one and $1,000,000 in year two). Finally, they signed Alexei Ponikarovsky to a one-year deal for $1.5 million.
On the negative side of the ledger, Erik Cole decided to leave Carolina for greener pastures and will play for those perennial Cup contenders, the Montreal Canadiens.
Let's review each signing, see what Jim Rutherford had to say about them, then give some perspective.
"Great character, excellent penalty killer, good faceoff guy, and an ideal fit for our team" (Jim Rutherford)
The first deal of the day for Carolina was the signing of Tim Brent. The 6'0 center is still pretty young, (age 28), so he has yet to establish himself as a veteran in the league, but he was at the top of Carolina's wish list as far as potential fourth line centers go. He does everything pretty well, kills penalties, takes faceoffs, and battles hard at both ends of the rink. He even played some point on the powerplay.
Jim Rutherford was not revealing his source, but he said that when he asked a trusted friend in the Toronto area about Brent he was told, "He'd make a fine third line center!"
Considering the Hurricanes only want him to play on the fourth line, that should bode well.
My Take? Brent was one of the potential centers I had listed a month ago in this article, although he was not at the top of my list. Still, the price is certainly right and with his character it's hard to go wrong with this type of player. The team could also use his shot blocking ability.
Bottom line: If he can win more faceoffs than he loses, he'll probably pay for himself with that skill alone.
"He's an experienced goalie, will help the team, and will make a good partner for Cam." (Jim Rutherford)
The next signing was Brian Boucher, the veteran goalie who spent the last couple of seasons in Philadelphia. Again, Rutherford said they got the top guy on their wish list, (although this was Tom Barrasso's wish list.)
Boucher is a solid goalie who has been around the block a bit, but he is capable of getting hot and stealing games from time to time. Prior to Philadelphia, he was a backup for two years in San Jose and posted an overall record of 15-7-4 with a save percentage of .921.
My Take? He was near the top of my list as well, but I thought his price might be too high. A few years back in Phoenix, he had a record breaking shutout streak. Would be nice to see him do that again. He said all the right things in an interview today. "My job is to make sure Cam is fresh for the playoffs."
Bottom line: Should be an improvement and could actually push Ward a bit for some playing time.
(note about Justin Peters: Rutherford said they still liked this goalie and as a matter of fact, they will be at risk because he needs to pass through waivers when the time comes.
Peters will be paid his full $550,000 no matter where he plays because he signed a one-way deal.) Correction, Peters signed a two-way deal two years ago, but he has a guaranteed minimum of $250,000 next season)
"Quietest signing of the day..." (Bob Wage)
The team also re-signed Jiri Tlusty to a one-year minimal deal, ($525,000). This could be the last hurrah in Carolina for this former first round pick. He's a good two-way player who can pass and score, but he's been injury prone and inconsistent.
My Take? Better to sign him then to let him walk and get nothing for him. He's still young and shows some promise from time to time. If he doesn't work out, you can always replace him later in the season, especially if one of the young kids out-performs him.
Bottom line: At that price, why not? But make him earn a spot.
So what was all that about? That was Erik Cole, while rambling on to the Montreal media, (courtesy of Canes Now.) The winger doesn't sound too happy with Carolina. He doesn't want to be effective in the future, he wants to be effective now?
Cole was offered a lot of money, so you can't blame him for taking it. Rutherford said that they could not match it, and my guess is that they would not have matched it, even if they could. This is the same player who just played in 40 games the previous year.
There is no doubt that there is a big void to fill, but as Rutherford said at today's press conference, sometimes other players step up. In the meantime, the GM will keep looking to fill this void, either by trade or by free agency. It won't be easy.
My Take? Not a very classy move by Cole for saying anything negative about his former team. He sounded a bit miffed that Carolina wouldn't match the Montreal offer and "forced" him to move. On television, he also made mention of the passionate fanbase in Montreal, but he will probably find out that the passion runs both ways, positive and negative. Hopefully, his agent factored in that he will soon be paying higher taxes and a higher cost of living in his new locale.
His speed is world class and he was clutch this past year with 9 game winning goals, but he had a perfect chance to be "effective" in the 2009 playoffs and sputtered with zero goals in 18 games.
Bottom line: I can see both sides. If I'm Cole, it's hard to turn down that money. If I'm the Canes, I don't want to be the team to guarantee him four years at that price. Apparently, Boston, Buffalo, and Washington, the other teams making offers, didn't want to either.
"We think he's a player who can give us some size up front and can be a 20 goal scorer." (Jim Rutherford)
The Canes pulled a bit of a rabbit out of their hat with the signing of Alexei Ponikarovsky. Will it turn out to be a good move? For a one year commitment at $1.5 million, the risk is low. If the winger's injury problems persist, the Canes are not out too much, but if this big skater can return to previous form, the points would be a welcomed surprise.
Rutherford made a point of telling the media that the plans were in the works to get "Poni" regardless of the Cole decision. The intention was to try out Ponikarovsky on the first line with Eric Staal and Cole.
Paul Maurice is very familiar with this player and helped management with his insight.
The winger suffered from groin problems over the past year but Rutherford said that to the best of their understanding, those issues were over.
My Take? This isn't a signing that will send fans to the streets in celebration, (or rioting), but for the money it's a signing that's worth a try. Some Caniacs will be comparing the signing with losing Cole, but they shouldn't think of "Poni" as replacing Cole, they should think of him as replacing Sergei Samsonov, who had this slot at this time last year.