The Hurricanes split up their player exit interviews over two separate days, and it just so happened that every pending free agent not named Jussi Jokinen
met with Jim Rutherford on Friday morning.
That brought about a quick-fire single-file line of players with open-ended futures to came through to meet the media either before or after their meetings with Rutherford. Fortunately, it wasn't that hard to sort them out, as each player declared either his intention or hope to stay in Carolina.
That group includes unrestricted free agents Ryan Bayda, Erik Cole (more on his situation here
), Chad LaRose
and Dennis Seidenberg, as well as restricted free agent Tuomo Ruutu
. Restricted free agent Anton Babchuk did not meet with the media.
The next question is whether or not the Hurricanes feel the same way, as there are a number of young players coming through the system and only so much money to be given to a group that will, for the most part, demand significant raises.
One would think that LaRose, 27, would be a lock to come back given the mutual appreciation between the player, who scored a career-high 19 goals this season after being given more ice time on scoring lines, and the organization, for which he has ties to back to this youth hockey days in the Compuware family in the Detroit.
"I want to continue what I have going here and hopefully continue my relationships with everybody here in the front office," said LaRose.
"I've come a long way," he added. "I started playing more in January in a top-three line role, and Coach Maurice put me in a lot of situations that really helped me grow as a a player. I thank everyone here for the opportunity that they've given me, and it's really helped me grow in my career."
Another player needing a new contract is Ruutu, although as a restricted free agent there is less urgency. The Canes and Ruutu, now 26, were in the same situation last summer, but could only agree on a one-year deal after some difficult negotiations. That ended up working out for the player, who scored a career-high 26 goals and was probably the team's most consisent forward throughout the most injury-free year in his young career.
"I really like it here, and I really hope I can be back," he said.
Incentives for Ruutu to return include the Finnish connection mentioned yesterday with Jokinen
("We're proud to be here and represent Finland," said Ruutu), and the extremely positive relationship he has with the team's fans, even if the latter can be difficult to comprehend at first.
"Every time you get a chance to hit you have to hit because you know they love it and they're going to cheer for it" he said. "When (my parents) came over they were a little surprised at what was going on because they were booing at you, but I told them it's not booing."
As depth players, Bayda and Seidenberg's status is a little more up in the air. Tim Conboy has a one-way deal with the Hurricanes next year, which isn't great news for Bayda if Conboy spends most of his time at forward, which he has for the majority of his time in the NHL, instead of his more natural spot on defense. Also, a young player like Zach Boychuk
or Drayson Bowman
could demand a spot with strong showings in training camp.
Seidenberg is in a similar postion, as Brett Carson and Bryan Rodney both held their own in brief NHL stints last season and could very well fight it out for an open spot on defense. The Hurricanes could do a lot worse on their third pairing.
Then there's Babchuk, whose career-high 16 goals ranked tied for fifth in the NHL among defensemen. However, he did not score in the playoffs and was a healthy scratch at times due to his inconsistent defensive play. As a restricted free agent, the team retains his rights and could offer him in a trade if they decide not to keep him.
To make a long story short, declarations of hope or intent are only the first part of the process. There's still plenty of work to be done over the coming weeks.