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Carolina Franchise Makes Statement with Ward and Staal Contracts

Cam Ward is as cool as a cucumber, a trait which serves him well when he's under fire between the pipes. (photo by LTD)

Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford is a happy man. Today, he locked up another "cornerstone" of his franchise for six more years. First it was Eric Staal, now it's Cam Ward. Rutherford said that during good times or bad, those are the two players he wants to build around. And who can blame him?

As a fan, whether you agree with the contract numbers or not, today is a significant point in franchise history. Peter Karmanos and Jim Rutherford are announcing to the rest of the NHL, as well as to the fanbase, that they are willing to make a major financial commitment to keep the right players. They want to win. This news has got to be reassuring, especially in these uncertain economic times.

It's not like that everywhere. Even in the NFL, there are some owners who always try to take the cheap way out. They will nurture a young player as long as he is affordable, but when that player reaches free agency, it's time to move on.

If this franchise was in financial difficulty or if it's future was in some type of uncertainty, do you think management would commit to this kind of money over these long terms? Of course not.

The franchise is making a very loud statement. "We are here to stay, we are here to win, and do not even think about trying to steal one of our RFA's".

Here at Canes Country, we have talked a lot about the virtues of both of these players recently and even speculated about how much Ward might sign for. (Congratulations to those of you who clicked 6 million). Still, the timing of the signing came as a bit of a surprise. Earlier this summer, the GM had mentioned that there was no rush to get the deal done. But today he said that they decided to focus on it once training camp broke.

Why did they wait until training camp to begin working on the contract? Perhaps after the GM saw first hand the talent level of the youngsters coming up the pipeline, he knew he could make the numbers work next year and in the future? Whether that had anything to do with the decision or not, future contract negotiations with current players who have expiring contracts next year, just got a bit more complex.

This signing along with the Staal deal means that starting next year, over 14.5 million of cap space is used between just those two players. The Canes should be able to afford this because they have good talent coming up the ranks earning entry level pay. Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk, Jamie McBain, and possibly Drayson Bowman could all be ready for the show. The bad news is that veteran players like Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen, Joe Corvo, Scott Walker, and Aaron Ward are due for new contracts next year and there will not be enough cap space to re-sign all of them. Who stays and who goes?

Hard decisions will need to be made next summer, for sure.

In the meantime, there is much rejoicing at 1400 Edwards Mill Road. Ward realizes that his contract places him among the top three goalies in the league and he will have the associated pressure to perform at that elite level. But he doesn't think that the pressure will bother him. "That's one reason I wanted to be a goalie, " he said.

Ward was quick to thank others for his achievements. He thanked his teammates and his coaches. He also singled out "one of the greatest goalies of all time", Tom Barrasso, as being instrumental to his success. Ward said that he and his wife fell in love with Raleigh and are very fortunate to live here.

"The fans are outstanding and the atmosphere is great ," said the goaltender.

Jim Rutherford gave the highest compliment one could give. "I would rather have Cam Ward here than any other goaltender in the league". High praise indeed coming from an ex-goalie and one of the best general managers in the league.