At the final media availability of the season for General Manager Jim Rutherford, Head Coach Peter Laviolette and the Hurricanes player themselves on Tuesday, all sides indicated that getting a deal done as quickly as possible would be in the their best interests.
“Clearly the priority now, and I’ll start working on it this week, is Ray Whitney and Scott Walker,” said Rutherford. “I’ve had the exit meetings with them, they want to stay, and we’re going to do the best we can to keep them here.”
Both players were key members of the 2006-07 Hurricanes. At 34, Whitney had the most productive season of his 15-year career by leading the team with 83 points. Walker, who was acquired in a trade with Nashville for Josef Vasicek before the season started, scored 21 goals while providing toughness on the ice and establishing himself as a leader in the locker room.
Given their successful seasons, both players would certainly generate interest around the league when the free agency period officially begins on July 1st. Judging by their early reactions, however, it is possible that an agreement could be reached well before then.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here, but obviously I’m not enjoying this time of year this year,” said Whitney, referring to the Hurricanes not participating in the playoffs. “But my priority is the same as Jimmy’s. I’d like to get something done and stay here, and the sooner the better.”
While a bit more cautious, Walker also expressed interest in moving negotiations with the Hurricanes along quickly.
“It’s a great step and it makes a big difference when both sides would like to get something done, that makes things a little bit easier,” said Walker. “From a personal standpoint and just a mental standpoint, obviously it would be nice to get things done sooner rather than later. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, it’s just one of those things.”
Rutherford acknowledged that both players will be in line for a raise of what they made from the Hurricanes last year. In order to re-sign both players, as well as restricted free agent Cam Ward, who is also due for an increase from his $684,000 entry-level contract, Rutherford said he hopes to increase the team’s payroll by about $4 million next season. Walker and Whitney each earned roughly $1.5 million this season.
While Whitney has played for six different NHL teams and is no stranger to moving, Walker was in Nashville for seven seasons prior to moving to Carolina.
As for the team’s other unrestricted free agents, defenseman David Tanabe and forwards Vasicek and Anson Carter, Rutherford said he would turn his attention to them once he and the rest of the Hurricanes management decided what other changes to make to the team. Glen Wesley, another unrestricted free agent, will almost certainly be back if he chooses not to retire after 19 NHL seasons.
Tanabe, who enjoyed a solid season after coming off of a significant injury, echoed Walker and Whitney’s desire to remain a Hurricane.
“I think with the core group of players they have here, with this talent in this organization, that I’m definitely going to give Carolina a chance to re-sign me,” said Tanabe. “Also, coming off this knee injury that I had, Carolina was a team that stepped forward, and I won’t forget that. They were a team that definitely when I needed help came and gave me a chance.”
The only other players without contracts going into next season are defensemen Anton Babchuk, a restricted free agent, and Bret Hedican, who has a player option for next season.