For the last three seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes have wandered in the playoff wilderness.
This offseason general manager Jim Rutherford looks like hes not only trying to make sure that that doesnt happen again, but he looks like he wants to return the Hurricanes to being a serious player in the East.
Having already pulled off the trade with Pittsburgh for center Jordan Staal and then signed Staal to a 10-year, 60 million contract extension on Sunday, the Hurricanes are likely to appear on many prognosticators lists to find their way back to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the Canes reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. They also could challenge for the Southeast Division.
Rutherford, whose team has appeared in the Stanley Cup Final twice since 2002, winning it in 06, is showing that he is not content with having Staal brothers as bookends.
If this is the team we start with, I think were going to be more competitive, he told reporters on Sunday, according to audio posted on a team Web site, but, at the same time, to get to that level we really want to get to -- to be a contender -- I feel adding one more player is an important piece.
He bid for the top free agent defenseman available, Nashvilles Ryan Suter, and also pursued the top forward on the market, New Jerseys Zach Parise. (Among those the Canes enlisted in Parises recruitment was former Devils assistant coach John MacLean, now on the Canes bench.) Late on Sunday, Rutherford learned that the Canes were out of the Parise sweepstakes and on Monday TSNs Darren Dreger reported that the Canes were out of the race for Suter.
However, one of the most intriguing possibilities is that the Hurricanes are said to be making a big push for Columbus forward Rick Nash, who has reached the 30-goal plateau in seven of the last eight seasons and led the NHL in goals in 2003-04 with a career high of 41. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Canes are making a heck of a push to acquire Nash, who asked out of Columbus prior to last seasons trade deadline but has not moved as general manager Scott Howson has yet to get the package he wants. Nash has a list of preferred teams he would like to play for, according to the Dispatch, and, at present, the Canes are not among them.
If the Canes could add the likes of Nash, their top six forwards would arguably rival any in the NHL. Captain Eric Staal is a four-time All-Star and has hit the 70-point mark for seven straight seasons. Jeff Skinner, the 11 Calder Trophy winner (rookie of the year), is only 20 and has 51 goals in 146 career games. Jordan Staal is a four-time 20-goal scorer who has reached 40 points four times and also is a top defensive forward. Left wing Jussi Jokinen has averaged 54 points the last three season and Tuomo Ruutu is a proven 20-goal scorer if he stays healthy for the entire season. A line of the two Staals and Nash, each of them 6-foot-4, could dominate opponents, not to mention what it could do on the power play.
On Sunday, Rutherford was tight-lipped about what he would say about a potential trade out of fear of violating the leagues tampering rules.
All I can say is were in the trade market and were active, he said.
He added that he has not received permission from other teams to speak to their players directly. (Nashville recently granted such permission to the other 29 teams to seek a potential contract agreement and trade for disgruntled forward Alex Radulov, who reportedly signed back in the KHL on Monday.)
Last season was a disappointment for the Canes, who narrowly missed the playoffs in 2010-11. They were forced to fire coach Paul Maurice after a bad start, but new coach Kirk Muller turned things around in a big way in the second half. Defenseman Justin Faulk made the all-rookie team and is only 20 and top defenseman Joni Pitkanen is healthy after playing just 30 games last season. On Sunday, the Canes bolstered their defense by signing veteran free agent defenseman Joe Corvo for his third tour with the team. Plus, stalwart Cam Ward remains in goal.
Rutherford said he will still pursue trades no matter how long it takes a week, a month or longer -- and even some free agents but that he likes his roster.
Well, Im comfortable with it, he said. Jonis healthy. Weve added Jordan Staal. Justin Faulks going to be a year older. We brought Corvo back. I think we have more balance and depth on our defense. Kirks going to coach the team right out of training camp.
The small-market Canes might not be a heavy favorite, but they could be a trendy dark horse unless they can pull off the trade for Nash. In that case, they could become a favorite to win the East much in the way Los Angeles just won the Stanley Cup: with a big, bruising front line and balanced scoring.