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Droschak: Not a "Feel Good" Trade

by David Droschak / Carolina Hurricanes
Caniacs who believe the Erik Cole-for-Justin Williams deadline deal is a “feel-good” move by general manager Jim Rutherford better check themselves at the front doors of the RBC Center when the Calgary Flames come calling Friday night. 

The last time I looked, or peeked at the stock market, the NHL remains a professional sports league, meaning the Cole trade was consummated for two reasons – business and a warm body – not a welcoming home party.

It’s a well-known fact that Cole never wanted to depart
Raleigh in the first place, and that Rutherford’s offseason trade for a young defenseman in Joni Pitkanen was based more on need than Cole’s play on the ice or his $4 million salary with a contract looming for 2009-10.

“I’ve never traded a player away from here that I didn’t like personally,” Rutherford said Thursday. “It has always been circumstances that have created trades. Under the right circumstances there is probably nobody I wouldn’t bring back unless they are older or retired. We have a certain bond with our players. I take pride in the fact that I care about every player here and I would do what I could to help them in good times and bad times.

“When you bring players back you know what their good points are and what their bad points are,”
Rutherford said. “You always run the risk at the trade deadline of bringing in new players and not fully knowing them and them not knowing the team.”

Cole’s pros include his uncanny speed and willingness to stand in front of the net during the power play (although he may have to fight Tuomo Ruutu for that spot). His major con has been inconsistent play.  

“When you play defense against a guy like Cole your only option is you have to give ice,” Maurice said. “To be able to back that defenseman off will allow Erik another foot or foot-and-a-half with the puck so he can do a lot of things with it, and he has an exceptional change of gears. There are not a lot of guys who skate like he does.” 

So after the initial handshake, hug or fist-to-fist welcome between old GM, old coach and old player, Cole slipped on his No. 26 jersey and hit the RBC Center ice for practice like he had never left, taking a position on the top line alongside friend Eric Staal and Ruutu.

He’ll also sleep in his own bed tonight (he never sold his Raleigh crib) and pick up a Jersey Mike’s sub at some point over the next 24 hours. If there was ever a comfortable swap, this seems to fit the bill.

“It’s everything, my entire routine was changed (in Edmonton) so it’s really nice to be back,” Cole said.

Let’s tackle the business side of this trade first. Edmonton was paying relatively big bucks this season for a player in Cole who registered just 27 points in 63 games (He had 51, 61 and 59 points in his last three seasons in Carolina). And with unrestricted free agency on the horizon next season, the Oilers were more than happy to part with a player who was having an “off” season and were likely to lose in the offseason anyway.

In Williams, the Canes dumped two more years of contract valued at $7 million and a player who couldn’t stay healthy. Looking realistically at Williams this season before yet another injury set him back, it became more unclear with each passing shift if he would ever return to his 30-goal form.

With Williams still injured, Carolina gets a player in Cole who can play immediately, not in two weeks when it may be too late.

So, if you’re judging this trade early, Carolina gets the advantage out of the gate.

And if you’re already looking into the future, Rutherford didn’t short-side himself like some golfers do of my ilk, leaving himself some wiggle room come contract time depending on how Cole performs -- or doesn’t down the stretch.      

“We’re in a whole new world now, the way everybody lives, the way everybody does business, and in the sporting business it used to be that general managers wanted to have players tied up, long-term, because they didn’t want to deal with it year after year as to whether they were keeping or losing a player,” Rutherford said. “But we’re in a totally different dynamic with the way the economy is, and not knowing where the revenues are going the next couple of years, it’s almost better not to have a player under contract. So, this trade actually gives us more options at the end of the season. My hopes and wishes are that we will sign Erik in the offseason.”

A lot of that will be up to Cole, and his performance over the next 17 games, and hopefully into the playoffs. We’ve all seen Cole rev his engine on numerous occasions, streaking down the right wing past a helpless defender, only to see him idle for several games at a time, leaving many of us wondering: “Why can’t he play like that all the time?”

I’m not here to argue that the NHL trade deadline is ridiculously late in the season. That’s a no brainer, because it is. So, just what value will Cole be to a Carolina playoff push? Will he score 10 goals over the final four weeks of the regular season? Highly unlikely, but he did score seven over a similar span last season as the Canes narrowly missed the playoffs.

But Cole will be playing for a new contract, which is often incentive enough – spoken or otherwise – for a veteran player to take his game to another level, to give that little bit of extra effort, to dig in the corners just a little harder.

“Obviously I’m here with something to prove,” said Cole, a crowd favorite who was once part of the famed BBC line that produced key goals and points during the 2002 Stanley Cup finals run. “I’m here to prove I can be a consistent performer. It’s a great opportunity for me. I get to play with some great players again, so I’m excited. This is going to be so easy for me to come in here and play hard and prove my worth.”

“He always has had confidence and he’s going to be comfortable here, he played his whole career here,” added Rutherford. “This isn’t all on him where the team ends up, he’s just one part of it. But we do expect consistent performances from him on a regular basis.”

And a famous power rush or two down the right boards from No. 26 come Friday night. The spokesman for “Click it or Ticket” is back, so buckle up for the stretch run.   

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