RALEIGH — Jim Rutherford can't say for sure if Rod Brind'Amour will play next season for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Rutherford, the team's president and general manager, said Wednesday that the veteran could play out the final year left on his contract. At the same time, Rutherford said, Brind'Amour may accept a front-office position with the Canes.
"He really has to make some decisions as to whether he wants to continue to play or he wants to start a different type of career in hockey," Rutherford said. "Whatever that may be, that's going to be open to him.
"We'll try to make this work for Rod and the team. A job will be offered to Rod whenever he decides he's not going to play. If that's this year or next year, I can tell you he will be part of this organization if he wants. ... I think he's got a lot of things to offer for a number of years here."
Brind'Amour, 39, sounded Monday as if he was torn between playing another season and retiring, but he did say, "I've never quit anything in my life." He signed a five-year, $18 million extension after the Canes' 2006 run to the Stanley Cup and had said he is committed to finishing out a contract that would pay him $3 million next season.
Rutherford said he would meet with Brind'Amour - and with winger Ray Whitney - a couple of times in the next few months to see "where they think they are and where they'd like to be and where we'd like them to be."
Whitney, 37, is due to become an unrestricted free agent.
Though Whitney has seen his offensive productivity remain consistent and he is a top-six forward, Brind'Amour played fourth-line minutes this past season, had nine goals and 10 assists, and was minus-29 in the plus/minus rating.
Rutherford said Brind'Amour, the team captain until turning the job over to Eric Staal late this season, was not at a point in his career "where it's automatic he's going to play next year" but said such talk is a sensitive subject.
"Rod had a year that he wasn't totally comfortable with his performance nor was the team," Rutherford said. "That doesn't change my opinion of Rod Brind'Amour. I mean, this guy has had a great career. He's done remarkable things for the Hurricanes over his career."
On the bench
Though change may be coming for Brind'Amour, Rutherford said the coaching staff will remain the same, possibly with new duties.
That Paul Maurice took the seat on a podium next to Rutherford on Wednesday was a good sign for the coach. Since the season ended, two Southeast Division coaches have been fired -- Rick Tocchet on Monday by the Tampa Bay Lightning and John Anderson on Wednesday by the Atlanta Thrashers. Both had losing seasons, and their teams missed the playoffs.
With Carolina's American Hockey League affiliate to be in Charlotte next season, Rutherford said associate head coach Ron Francis and assistant coach Tom Barrasso may split time between Raleigh and Charlotte. Francis, who also serves as director of player personnel, and Barrasso could be behind the bench with Maurice and assistant coach Tom Rowe, but there will be times they're away from the team.
The Hurricanes (35-37-10) endured a 14-game winless streak early in the season and had some significant injuries. Carolina had one of the league's best records in the second half of the season but fell short of the playoffs after reaching the Eastern Conference finals last season.
"There were some things that were outside of the coaches' control, and outside Paul's control, that could not be fixed quick enough in those first two months," Rutherford said. "When you get by that, and when you look at what happened early in the season and you look at history of teams that have had that problem, most of the time things totally unravel.
"To Paul's credit, he continued to get these players to believe in themselves and rallied them. We just dug too deep a hole. ... I really believe Paul and the coaching staff did an extremely good job under the circumstances they had to deal with in the early going."
The work ahead
In looking to next season, Rutherford said shoring up the back end was a priority and that he was trying to sign defenseman Anton Babchuk to a contract. Babchuk left the Canes after the 2008-09 season to play in Russia.
No decision has been made on a backup goalie for Cam Ward: Manny Legace or Justin Peters. Legace will be a free agent and apparently has interest in playing in Russia, Rutherford said.
Another priority is the NHL Entry Draft in late June. The Canes have the seventh pick in the opening round and four of the top 60 picks.
"We have a chance to really add some more good, young players," Rutherford said.
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