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Jim Rutherford Strikes Oil


Fans of the Carolina Hurricanes had an emotional day yesterday. Some of them are very happy, some are sad, some are downright angry. While many had an inkling that general manager, Jim Rutherford, would make some kind of an attempt to bring Erik Cole back into the fold, not many, if anyone knew that Justin Williams would be the sacrificial lamb.

But this was a complicated deal which took some deep thinking to orchestrate. Rutherford wanted to improve the team this season, but he had no room within the budget to work with. It would seem like he would be handcuffed, wouldn't it? Other teams, like the Washington Capitals did not make a single move at all during deadline day because they had no money to work with.

That didn't stop the Canes general manager though.

While Rutherford needed to improve the team right here and now without spending any additional cash, he also wanted to dump some salary for next season, if at all possible. Could he accomplish both objectives at the same time? It would seem like an impossibility, unless he was willing to relinquish valuable draft picks or prospects to balance things out.

But the GM was able to accomplish both of his goals and it didn't cost him a single (net) draft pick. As a matter of fact, he picked up a fifth rounder in the process.

The first question fans should ask themselves? Is the team better today than it was yesterday? Without a doubt, it is. Justin Williams had been out with a broken hand and was expected to be out for at least a couple more weeks. But even when he was in the lineup, the winger was still trying to find his game.

2008 - Justin Williams 32 3 7 10 -9 9 2 0 0 0 80 3.8

And when Williams finally gets to (100%), there is still reasonable doubt that he will ever return to his former 30 goal performance level. The player has suffered through two total reconstructive knee surgeries, plus had a torn Achilles tendon. These are major setbacks that some athletes never fully recover from. Last year when he attempted to make a return late in the season against Washington, he pulled a muscle in his back and was effectively out the rest of the year.

No one works harder than Justin Williams, but even his most fervent fans probably wonder about his ability to overcome future ailments.

One might ask, why would Rutherford need to cut back on salary for next season already? If you take a look at the Hurricanes budget commitment for next season on the Canes Country Salary Chart, you can see that before the trade, the team was committed to over $43 million in salaries. That number is pretty close to what the team is already spending at the present time. Even if the budget is increased a bit, that would leave precious little money to sign several players who will either be restricted or unrestricted free agents next season.

Players like, Chad LaRose, Dennis Seidenberg, Anton Babchuk, Ryan Bayda, Jussi Jokinen, and most importantly, Tuomo Ruutu all need new contracts. Rutherford just freed up some valuable cash to help him re-sign the individuals that he wants to sign of that bunch.

Caniacs who might be upset about this deal should ask themselves, who would the Hurricanes be better off with on the roster next season, Justin Williams or Tuomo Ruutu? Of course there is no guarantee that Rutherford will re-sign Ruutu, but this deal certainly improves those chances.

Some fans are hung up over the fact that Patrick O'Sullivan was initially included but was immediately shipped off to Edmonton. While the North Carolina native is a promising young talent, keeping him would not have solved the money issue. O'Sullivan is due to earn 2.3 million each year over the next two seasons and trading for him alone would not have freed up enough cash. The initial deal with Los Angeles would never have been made unless Edmonton agreed beforehand to accept him for Cole. The Oilers may have even specifically requested him. As far as the Canes were concerned, the forward was just a pawn to be used toward the desired end result.

Speaking of the Oilers, remember all the nonsense we heard from certain journalists about how Edmonton got the better part of the Pitkanen/Cole trade and how the Carolina franchise didn't know what they had when they had Cole?

Just as predicted, Cole didn't even stay one entire season there.

Edmonton currently has a playoff position right now, while sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference. Wouldn't it be something if this trade cost them a playoff spot and they ended up out?

I admit that I am not a know-it-all journalist from Canada, but I do know that it's usually impossible to tell the winners from the losers right after a trade is completed. Sometimes it takes years to make that determination.

For the Hurricanes, if Erik Cole helps the team to make it to the post-season this year, the trade will probably be deemed a success. They have their work cut out for them though.

We have criticized the Hurricanes general manager in the past for his perceived mistakes, (like signing Josef Melichar, giving Frank Kaberle a four year deal, and agreeing to a no-trade clause for Nic Wallin), but let's give credit where credit is due. Jim Rutherford thought outside the box when he came up with this deal. He not only solved an immediate need, he was proactive regarding a future one.

Most noteworthy, at least he had the ambition and guts to try something. Fans would not be happy with the alternative, doing nothing at all.


Cole is expected to be back in town today. Fans can watch him practice at the RBC beginning at 11AM.