Canes changing perceptions
Posted July 5, 2013
Updated July 6, 2013
Jim Rutherford was at his cryptic best on day one of free agency.
When asked if the Canes (and the city of Raleigh) had lost any appeal for free agents, Rutherford smiled and suggested quite the opposite.
That's when he told the gathered media of a telephone conversation he had just finished with the agent of a top remaining free agent. Rutherford said the agent told him: "My client may take a one-year deal at a lower number just to come and play for you guys." He didn't name the player, of course, and Rutherford cautioned everyone in the room that a deal was not likely to happen. But it speaks to the perception of this region as a good place to play.
The Canes are too close to the salary cap this year to spend big on a free agent - that's why the deal would have to be under market value, We can only speculate as to the player's identity (look at the top free agents still unsigned after the first wave of free agency - Jagr or Iginla, maybe? Someone else?) but regardless, here's a top player who wasn't enamored with his original offers that wouldn't mind spending a year in North Carolina
Things have come a long way since the days when Keith Primeau sat out an entire season rather than play for the Carolina Hurricanes.
In truth, that holdout had more to do with dollars than area codes, but things are a lot different now in terms of how the hockey world perceives the 'Canes and the city of Raleigh.
We may never know the identity of this mystery free agent, but his supposed interest in Carolina as a fall-back destination if longer-term deals fall through really says something.
This will never be Toronto or Montreal - or New York, Boston or Detroit - in terms of a "destination city" for NHL stars, but Raleigh and the Canes are becoming desirable, even for free agents.
It helps that the Canes are spending money now, as evidenced by the extensions for Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and others. They're no longer priced out of players automatically. Rutherford said a year ago that Jordan Staal's desire to play in Carolina opened a lot of eyes around the NHL, even considering his family tie to the team. Adding Semin - and then extending his contract - opened even more eyes.
Winning a Stanley Cup, and making two other deep playoff runs in the last dozen years, certainly helped matters. The climate (this year's rain aside) proves attractive as well.
And then there's the smaller media presence. I've witnessed the post game interview scrums in Toronto first-hand. It's a mob scene. Step ladders are standard-issue gear there, so reporters can stack 3-4 deep around a player. I don't know if the microscopic scrutiny was a contributing factor to Mike Komisarek's lack of success with the Maple Leafs, but it certainly couldn't help matters. Regardless, he sounds pretty happy to move to the Hurricanes.
Komisarek and goaltender Anton Khudobin may wind up being the extent of the Hurricanes' free agent acquisitions this year. Or there may be a big fish still out there willing to nibble on smaller bait to spend a year playing in a friendly environment. Either way, the Canes are in a better position now than they once were in terms of league-wide perception.
Now let's see a few more wins this winter...