It appears that 11th-hour negotiations have intensified with one of the Hurricanes’ remaining big-name unrestricted free agents, but that the other will remain unsigned at Friday’s deadline.
Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said that he had a call scheduled with Jussi Jokinen’s representatives on Thursday, and that he was hopeful an agreement could be reached prior to the player hitting the open market at noon on July 1. That comes on the heels of less-optimistic statements in recent days.
“It appears it could have a chance now,” said Rutherford. “What’s changed is that we didn’t talk for a long time because they had taken their position that we couldn’t reach and we had taken our position. We did have a conversation yesterday to set up this call for today, and we’re hoping that we can figure out a way to get this done.”
A similar agreement is not expected with Erik Cole, whose agent informed Rutherford Thursday morning that the player has officially decided to test the waters.
“We gave it another shot today just to make sure,” said Rutherford. “Two days ago Ronnie (Francis) talked to Erik and yesterday Paul Maurice flew back in from Canada to have a face-to-face meeting. There have been some meetings going on here as we move closer to the finish line, but it hasn’t changed his position.”
In the absence of an actual resolution, the Hurricanes should at least have a better idea today about Jokinen’s status for next season and potentially beyond. The same can’t be said for Cole, who could still return if not signed by the deadline, as was the case two seasons ago.
That being the case, the Canes’ staff has been working on a list of potential free-agent reinforcements, even though Rutherford’s clear preference is to re-sign Cole.
“Let me make one thing clear – I don’t think that we can fully replace Erik Cole and the things he does for us, but we can’t control whether he goes into free agency or not without totally blowing up our budget,” said Rutherford.
“We’re looking at all our options. We’re not going in blind. We’ve been working hard on lists and what our options are, so if we get a certain phone call anytime after noon tomorrow, we may be in a position to move forward on somebody we have on our shortlist.”
Should Cole depart, Rutherford said that an option suggested by Maurice for next season would see Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruuto on the first line with Eric Staal. Since the team had previously planned for Ruutu to play at center, such a move would put the Hurricanes in the free agent market for someone else to play down the middle in addition to their planned signing of a fourth-line pivot.
Ever since the season ended, Rutherford has suggested that there likely would not be room for both Jokinen and Cory Stillman, the only remaining unrestricted free agent who spent the bulk of last season in the NHL, on the team’s roster for next season. However, should Jokinen not re-sign, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that Stillman would be an automatic addition to the team.
“At one point in time we had laid out kind of a plan or a criteria for Cory going forward, and he didn’t accept that,” said Rutherford. “Now we’ll have to revisit that as we move forward, probably in the next couple of weeks.
“As of noon tomorrow he becomes a free agent, and he has the right to go look around and see what’s there.”