Canes hope to sign free agents soon

Pitkanen, Jokinen, Cole, LaRose could be close to accepting new deals

Staff writerJune 28, 2011 

— Carolina Hurricanes forwards Jiri Tlusty and Troy Bodie will be unrestricted free agents on Friday.

According to Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford, they may not be the only ones.

Tlusty and Bodie, both restricted free agents, were not given qualifying offers on Monday, Rutherford said. By doing that, the team avoided potential contract arbitration with either player, although Rutherford said the Canes may look to re-sign them when NHL free agency begins July 1.

"It's just part of the process you go through with some players," Rutherford said. "There are a couple of players every year that you go about signing where the process is different. We do risk losing them, but we will talk to them about signing with us."

Rutherford said qualifying offers were made to the other restricted free agents: Brandon Sutter, Derek Joslin, Bobby Sanguinetti, Brett Sutter, Oskar Osala and Brett Bellemore. Osala has left to play in Russia's KHL next season, but the Canes retain his rights.

Rutherford had said he hoped to reach an agreement with Brandon Sutter on a contract similar in length to those given All-Star forward Eric Staal and goaltender Cam Ward. Rutherford said Monday that he met with Sutter's agent, Don Meehan, while in Minnesota last week for the NHL Entry Draft and that it's now likely Sutter would be offered a two- or three-year contract.

"We've talked about a long, long-term deal, and the reason we talked about it was to show how important Brandon is to us," Rutherford said. "We were willing to give him a long-term contract not out of necessity but respect.

"Their preference was to keep it shorter, and I totally understand. Brandon is a hard guy to project, so it may be better for both."

As the draft came to an end Saturday in St. Paul, Minn., Rutherford said he was hopeful of re-signing defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forwards Jussi Jokinen, Erik Cole and Chad LaRose. All four are due to become unrestricted free agents Friday, but Rutherford said Saturday he had held productive, face-to-face meetings with their respective agents while in St. Paul.

On Monday, however, Rutherford sounded more wary.

"I'm not as optimistic now as I was when I left Minnesota," he said.

While saying two of the four could be re-signed today, he said reaching a deal with one or both of the other two players might be more problematic. Rutherford did not specify which players could sign today and which could opt to test free agency.

"I'm a little disappointed in a couple of cases, but that's what the players have a right to do," he said.

Tlusty came to the Canes in a December 2009 trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent forward Philippe Paradis, Carolina's first-round draft pick in 2009, to the Leafs.

Tlusty had a one-year, one-way contract last season that paid $500,000 at the NHL or American Hockey League level, and he may be offered a similar one-way deal for this season.

Tlusty, a former first-round pick by the Leafs, has been slowed by knee and shoulder injuries - both requiring surgery - since being acquired by the Canes.

Bodie was claimed off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks in November and played 50 games last season for the Canes as a fourth-line energy player. He may be offered a one-year, two-way contract that would pay significantly less at the AHL level should he be assigned to the Charlotte Checkers.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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