When Hurricanes management said that it wanted the team to add some size and toughness over the summer, it wasn’t kidding.
What started at the draft and was followed by a few depth additions last week continued with the signing of former Montreal Canadiens winger Tom Kostopoulos on Tuesday. Kostopoulos’ 106 penalty minutes in 2008-09 were 27 more than any Hurricanes player recorded last season and also marked the third time he’s broken triple digits in that category in five full NHL seasons.
“Kostopoulos is a guy that we’ve liked for a long time,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “Our scouts have tracked his career, and he’s definitely a character guy and a versatile guy. He’s the type of guy you need on any winning team, and we’re excited to have him.”
“I’m a good defensive player who can chip in every now and then offensively, and I know they’re going to ask me to bring that physical play as well,” said Kostopoulos.
Besides the physical element, Kostopoulos, 30, was known in Montreal for his outstanding work ethic and willingness to drive to the net.
“I try to base my game on hard work,” he said. “I don’t do anything flashy. I play hard along the boards and do whatever is asked of me to help the team win.”
That attitude earned him the nickname “Nonstopoulos” from his coach in junior hockey – a moniker that has occasionally popped up throughout his career, including his time with a typically unforgiving fan base in Montreal.
“They usually get on the superstars a little more, so a hard-working guy like myself was usually OK,” he said with a laugh. “It was a really fun place to play.”
Kostopoulos said he was drawn to the Carolina organization for its league-wide reputation for fielding a tenacious team on the ice and for how well it treats its players. He also had encouraging conversations with former Los Angeles teammates Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason, as well as former Hurricane Jeff O’Neill.
“Even before that you always heard things around the league about how well they treat their players,” he said. “I’ve never heard a bad word about the city or the organization.”
Kostopoulos was also pleased with the Hurricanes’ clear desire to add him to the fold, saying that his agent received a call from Carolina in the infant stages of the unrestricted free agency period.
“One of the big points for me is that they called around 12:01 on July 1,” he said. “It’s not always a money thing. Sometimes it’s about who shows the most interest right away.”
For now, Kostopoulos seems set to take over the roster spot held by Ryan Bayda last season, marking the only change among the team’s top 12 forwards thus far. Bayda remains an unrestricted free agent, with a two-way contract from the Hurricanes still available if he chooses to accept it.
“He bounces between the third and fourth line and kills penalties,” said Karmanos of Kostopoulos. “He’s a guy that at times can play a larger role and can take on more minutes. He can play in that checking line role as an agitator who gets in on the forecheck, and the good thing is that he’s got the ability to bump up in the lines at times when we need him to.”
The Kostopoulos signing would seem to increase the team’s depth at forward from a season ago, which makes the move a little surprising when considering the more pressing needs on defense following the departures of Anton Babchuk and Dennis Seidenberg.
Filling those holes remains the top priority, as negotiations with a few remaining free agents, including Seidenberg, are ongoing.
“We’ve got a couple of players that we’re talking to now, and if those came through we pretty much feel that would fill out our defense,” said Karmanos.