"The fans in Carolina were unbelievable when I played there," Cole told NHL.com earlier this season. "They always made it easy for me to go about my business, live my life and enjoy myself and my family. We really had a great time raising our children (Bella and Landon) there and, actually, the plan right now is to retire there unless we find someplace better. I've got family that still lives in Raleigh."
Cole can go ahead with those retirement plans now -- he's a Carolina Hurricane once again.
Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford made that official Wednesday when he acquired Cole from Edmonton as part of a three-team deal that included the Los Angeles Kings.
The Hurricanes dealt right wing Justin Williams to the Kings in exchange for center Patrick O'Sullivan and a second-round pick (acquired by Los Angeles from Calgary) in the 2009 Draft. The Hurricanes then traded O'Sullivan and their own second-round pick in the '09 Draft to Edmonton for Cole and Edmonton's fifth-round pick in '09.
"Erik was an important player for our team for a long time, and will be an integral part of our push for the playoffs," Rutherford told hurricanes.com. "We thank Justin for all he has done for us. It is difficult to part ways with Justin because of what he has meant to our organization. The last few years have been tough on him and our team with his injuries, and we wish him all the best in Los Angeles."
Rutherford said the trade was also a plus from a financial standpoint as Williams, who appeared in only 32 games this season after suffering a broken hand on Feb. 15, still had two years remaining on his contract.
"We'll have the option to re-sign Erik or go in a different direction at the end of the year and based on how our economy is going, that's a good thing," Rutherford said.
"It was a tough trade to make -- as it was trading Erik over the summer," he continued. "Justin was big part of our team but it was an uphill battle for him and we're in the most crucial time in our season. We have a chance to bring back a good player and that's what we thought was in the best interest for the Carolina Hurricanes."
In addition to bringing back a fan favorite, Cole will most certainly be reunited with former Carolina linemate Eric Staal.
"I think when a player plays his whole career in one place and gets used to play with one guy (Eric Staal), it could be a pretty big adjustment and I think he had a tough time making that adjustment in Edmonton," Rutherford said.
Staal and Cole played a huge part in Carolina's Stanley Cup run during the 2005-06 season. Staal had 45 goals and a career-best 100 points with Cole on his left that season.
"He's really excited about coming back," said Rutherford. "I don't think that he was as comfortable in Edmonton. He was used to being here, and he views this as his home. He has very good chemistry playing with Eric Staal, and I don't think he found that chemistry playing with anybody else in Edmonton. It comes down to the fact that with not having Williams for most of the year and now putting Cole in there, there's a domino effect that makes our forward lines that much stronger moving forward."
Edmonton General Manager Steve Tambellini was grateful for Cole's contribution this season.
"Erik Cole is a great player and a very professional person," said Tambellini. "The reality of the situation is Erik is an unrestricted free agent this year and we knew there was a possibility of him being moved. I was not going to move Erik Cole unless we accomplished all areas of what we're looking for, and we did."
Cole, 30, left the Hurricanes having skated in 418 career regular-season games, ranking seventh all-time in games played by a Carolina player. He ranks third all-time in goals (129) and shorthanded goals (7), fourth in penalty minutes (406) and sixth in assists (151), points (280) and power-play goals (32).
In 63 games with Edmonton this season, Cole had 16 goals and 27 points. The Oswego, N.Y., native led all Oilers' players in hits (134) while averaging 17:04 of ice time per game.
"We looked at smaller deals, but our priority was to make this deal," Rutherford said. "I have a lot of respect for Justin and there's emptiness in my stomach, but it's been tough for him the last couple of years with the injuries. I feel a change of scenery will do him good though. We weren't going to have (Williams) the remainder of the season and to add a player like Cole was a big benefit."
Rutherford feels his team is now set for it's final push to the playoffs. The Hurricanes currently sit ninth in the Eastern Conference with 71 points -- one behind eighth-seeded Pittsburgh.
"This will come down to the end and we know we might make in or we might not but all our games are playoff games right now," Rutherford said. "Anyone that makes the playoffs has a chance to make a Cup. If we get in, we have as good a chance as anyone else. The advantage at this point is bringing in a player that knows his way around the road. There's an advantage to this trade."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.