Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 06/28/11 at 08:02 PM ET
This summer has already been pretty crazy for the Hurricanes, and the free agency period hasn’t even begun. With daily ebbs and flows regarding the progress (or lack of same) being made with contract negotiations, certain players have been generally regarded as “as good as gone” while others have been viewed as “sure-thing renewals”. Today, for the milllionth day in a row, there was a big wrinkle. One that I never expected.
Defenseman Joni Pitkänen was written off by most fans. He was the one player who most believed to be the one who was being the most difficult with his negotiations. And then today, he of all people was the first of the four “big” UFAs to re-sign. He has signed a three-year contract renewal at $4.5M per season. Although the particulars aren’t available just yet, we’ll assume that it’s $4.5 in each season, rather than 4 / 4.5 / 5 or something like that. This is, incidentally, the same salary that Pitkänen got last season (with a cap hit of $4M).
Part of the dramatic reversal of outlook was that Pitkänen made it very clear that he wanted to stay in Carolina. He was saying the right things in the press and off the record. He knows that as one of the top FAs-to-be, he probably could have gotten more money in the open market. Instead, he decided to accept a salary stagnation to stay on a team that he has said he loves playing for. That’s the kind of thing that Jim Rutherford and any other GM loves to see. Every player will say to the local press that they love playing in City X and that they wouldn’t have it any other way. When it comes down to it, most players aren’t willing to back that “wouldn’t have it any other way” part. They’ll try their damnedest to see if Team Y can make them a better offer. And then they’ll say the same things in City Y. This is part of human nature to look for greener grass. It’s an admirable thing for a player to say that there might be greener grass somewhere else but that he prefers the grass in his own yard.
This is the situation with Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose. Negotiations have apparently gone ice-cold with LaRose. I’ve already spoken to that, and my stance will continue to be that LaRose was a great Hurricane, but it’s time to move on. He’ll make his money in some other city, and he’ll get warm ovations when plays in Raleigh as a visiting player.
Cole and Jokinen are evidently hell-bent on trying the FA market, and at least for Jokinen, there should be plenty of suitors.
This is changing every day, sometimes multiple times a day. It’ll probably change at least three times before Friday. But for now, there’s been another 180°. Yesterday, it looked like LaRose, Cole and Jokinen would be signed while Pitkänen would be on the outs. It’s just the opposite today.
While Pitkänen selflessly stayed here in Carolina, the others are looking for better things. It’s their right to try to make as much money as they can, but it’s frustrating for fans to hear the players talk about how much they love it here only to see them sign elsewhere for a little bit of a raise. Jim Rutherford sums it up:
“For Erik and Jussi, this is about money to them,” said Rutherford. “I’ll use the same quote that I always use this time of year. You have players who say the right thing publicly about wanting to stay, but what they forget to add is, “Unless I can get more money somewhere else.
Like I said, there will probably be more ups and downs with Carolinas UFAs between now an July 1. For the first time in a long time, look for Carolina to be active early in the market.
If you’re scoring along at home, Carolina now has 14 active roster players under contract for the 2011-12 season, and their cap payroll is $36,233,333. That’s counting goaltender Justin Peters, who is assumed to be Charlotte-bound. They still have quite a ways to go before hitting the floor. If Cole or Jokinen isn’t re-signed before July 1, they may have no option but to be aggressive regarding the UFA status of Tyler Kennedy. I’d like that. I don’t think it’ll happen, but I’d like it.
The quotes from Rutherford suggest that they’d fill out the roster with call-ups from Charlotte, but there’s no way to reach the cap floor with those guys.
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David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.