Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford has a challenging period ahead of him. Not only does he have the entry draft tonight and all day Saturday, he is in the middle of some sticky contract negotiations with his free agents, Erik Cole and Chad LaRose. You didn't think re-signing them would be easy, did you?
During an interview on Toronto's 590 The Fan on Thursday, Rutherford revealed that the Canes wanted their budget to be around 50 million this coming year. That is a bit of an increase over the approximate 49 million spent last year, but it does not leave a lot of wiggle room for the players still needing contracts. If you check out the Canes Country Salary Chart, you can see that the club has already committed to over 40 million for the 2009-10 season. That leaves less than 10 million for Cole and LaRose, as well as unsigned RFA's Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, and Anton Babchuk. The team has already given up on re-signing Dennis Seidenberg and has yet to contact Ryan Bayda's agent.
If we do a little basic math, we can see Rutherford's dilemma. Ruutu had a career year and deserves a raise from his 2.25 million last year. Jokinen needs to be qualified above his 1.875 of last season. While these negotiations can wait because the players are restricted and are not going anywhere without Carolina approval, the Canes will eventually have to pay out in the neighborhood of 5 million to sign them both.
Chad LaRose earned 875 thousand in 2008-09. He almost doubled his career best stats and had a very good post season, so many pundits expect him to double his salary, at least. He might be able to get 2 million or more on the open market.
Then there is Erik Cole. The winger is coming off a contract which paid him 4 million annually over three years. While his stats are down, it's unlikely that he will settle for too much of a pay cut and probably will not sign for less than 3 million without testing the open market. Teams like Montreal and Ottawa still covet this player, and even though some Caniacs might feel like his best days are behind him, it's very difficult to determine his value.
If you add up these numbers, (Ruutu 3, Jokinen 2, Cole 3, LaRose 2), the total is over 50 million and some of the prospects still have not been signed. Patrick Dwyer, Dwight Helminen, Bryan Rodney, Casey Borer, and Brett Carson will probably get minimal deals, but they need new contracts as well. And what about Anton Babchuk? (trade bait?)
The number of years that players want also needs to be considered and that can complicate matters.
July 1st is a key date because if the Canes have not signed Cole and LaRose by then, they officially go on the open market. While technically the players could still sign with Carolina after that magic date, it's unlikely to happen. And if they are not signed by the 1st, don't expect Jim Rutherford to go crazy on the open market himself. In the previously mentioned interview, he said that he would probably wait until August to pick up a player if he needs one. The GM said that the prices are too high in early July and the best deals are made in August.
He could also make a trade, but that is a whole new ball of wax.
Rutherford is known for posturing and using the press to make a point to agents during negotiations. While he made it sound during the interview like he was not even close to re-signing the players, obviously things can change quickly and last minute deals can always be made. But it seems like there is no signing imminent, otherwise the general manager would most likely think twice before using inflammatory terms like "goofy numbers".
After the draft, we will look more closely at the free agent market and see what other players are out there that might be able to replace either Cole or LaRose, if indeed one or both of them move on to "greener" pastures.