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Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

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This is the time of year that Jim Rutherford can "do no right". Some fans want to shake up the whole Carolina line up. Some just want a few key additions. Some want a few key changes. One thing for certain, no one is totally happy with the way the team sits right now, including Rutherford. The Hurricanes' general manager was quoted less than 2 weeks ago saying that he wanted to pick up a 3rd line center who was capable of putting up 50-60 points for the Canes next year. Is Jeff Hamilton that guy? Since Jeff has never accomplished that feat before while playing in the NHL, I'm not sure that he can be counted on to do it. Was he the general manager's first choice? That's doubtful. Rutherford has admitted that he is not done tinkering with the team yet, plus he still has some money within the budget to spend. What we as fans don't know is what is going on behind the scenes. Who are the players that Rutherford has targeted and lost, who are the players that Rutherford has targeted to trade and wasn't able to, and who is it that he wants to acquire? Obviously, there have been attempts made that have not yet come about.

Regardless of what happens this off season, Jim Rutherford should be praised for doing his best work last summer. Within 2 weeks after winning the Cup, he locked up team captain, Rod Brind'Amour for 5 years, Justin Williams for 5 years, Erik Cole, for 3 years, Eric Staal for 3 years, and Nic Wallin and Frank Kaberle for 4 years each. All of these contracts seemed reasonable and fair at the time, for both sides. At this point though, they look like bargains for the franchise. One might say it was easy to sign all of these players after winning the Cup, but my response would be "no way, Jose'!" Look at Buffalo this year. They have had a very competitive club for 2 years, this year setting franchise records while winning the President's Trophy. You would think it would be easy to convince players to stay and continue what they have been doing so well, but Buffalo management reportedly made one mistake after another and eventually their two best players have flown away to greener pastures. One Buffalo sportswriter reported that Buffalo had a verbal agreement with Drury during the year about extending his contract, but never followed through on it. That's the kind of bumbling that loses a player's respect. Briere had similar problems. Buffalo general manager, Darcy Regier hasn't had good luck keeping good players and re-signing them to long term deals. After these recent foul-ups, it's not hard to see why and it has little to do with luck. Coincidentally enough, Buffalo has yet to sign another key free agent this year. Do you think players and agents talk among themselves? It sure seems so to me.

One thing you can say about Jim Rutherford, he's usually loyal to his players, sometimes to a fault. For instance, some fans wouldn't mind it if the Canes bought out Bret Hedican's contract and signed someone else. But, that's just not Rutherford's style. He will be perfectly content to allow Bret the time needed to see if he can work his way back into shape, successful or not. While this might end up hurting the Canes if Bret is unable to play, this is the type of loyalty players see and appreciate. This is the type of loyalty that helps get players signed without a lot of haggling and drama. A good case study is Ray Whitney. "The Wizard" was quoted as saying his past contract negotiations were the easiest of his career. With some of the crazy numbers being thrown around lately, I think Whitney could have gotten more than the 3.55 million per year that he signed for recently with the Canes. The scenario with Ray is certainly much different from what happened with Briere and Drury! Somehow, general managers have to find the right mix and not tinker with their teams too much, (the Flyers), too little, (the Blue Jackets), or too late, (the Sabres). Jim Rutherford has done a good job in the past, let's hope he can do it again this year. A lot can happen in the next couple of months and we'll all be watching!

Johnny Mathis