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Focus Turns to Free Agents

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Now that the Hurricanes have taken care of the coaching situation, it’s time to turn their efforts over to the unrestricted free agents.

Paul Branecky
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Much in the same way they kept their bench staff intact, they will at least attempt to bring back every member of the team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals before succumbing to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. 

However, after having preliminary talks with the agents for Ryan Bayda, Erik Cole, Chad LaRose and Dennis Seidenberg, General Manager Jim Rutherford isn’t certain that the team can make that a reality before losing the players’ rights come July 1.

“The team that we finished the season with was a good team,” said Rutherford. “If we had to play Pittsburgh again under difference circumstances where we’re not coming off two seven-game series and are a little healthier and not as mentally drained, I would be fine going into another series with Pittsburgh with the same team.

“But, it never works out that way,” he continued. “There are going to be changes, because somewhere along the way we’re not going to be able to agree with everybody on their contract wishes.”

Rutherford identified one potentially troublesome situation on the team’s defense involving Seidenberg and Anton Babchuk, who is a restricted free agent along with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu. Restricted free agents cannot leave to play for other teams unless they are traded, making their situations less urgent, but they will still require a new contract in order to continue playing for Carolina.

“I don’t know at this point whether we can bring [both] Seidenberg and Babchuk back,” said Rutherford. “That will be a little bit tricky, because Babchuk doesn’t need to be signed as a restricted free agent until after July 1, while Seidenberg probably does. In one sense, we could end up with both and we could end up with neither one of them.”

Regardless of how that develops, the Hurricanes will have their eye on adding a more defensive, physical presence to their back end to offset the wealth of puck-moving offensive players that have arrived over the last few years, such as Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen. Avenues to accomplish that include a trade with another team or the signing of a free agent.

“I hope we’re not looking for anybody on July 1,” said Rutherford. “I hope we can either do it with this group of guys or if make a trade to make an addition. If we could add a physical guy [on defense], that would help us.”

Although the start of free agency will be a key date to help sort out the situation, Rutherford did caution that there would not be a rush to acquire such a player if the team does indeed decide to pursue that route.

“We don’t have to do everything prior to game one,” he said. “We’ll see how our team is and what kind of start we get off to, and just like we do every year when we get to a certain point, we’ll add a player when we need to at the right point during the season.”

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