Carolina loses Cole but keeps Tlusty, adds three new players

Carolina loses Cole but keeps Tlusty, adds three new players.

Staff WriterJuly 2, 2011 

— Tim Brent was competing in a charity fishing tournament Friday outside Toronto when he learned he had been signed by the Carolina Hurricanes.

"We were at the fish weigh-in when I got the call," Brent said. "I was thrilled."

Brent was among the four players the Hurricanes would, well, land Friday as NHL free agency began. The center would later be joined by forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, one of Brent's former Toronto Maple Leafs teammates who also was in the tournament.

The Canes, one of the league's more active teams Friday, picked up veteran goaltender Brian Boucher to serve as Cam Ward's backup and provide some relief for the All-Star goalie. Carolina also re-signed forward Jiri Tlusty.

"We accomplished most things today," Canes general manager Jim Rutherford said. "Unfortunately ..."

At the top of the Hurricanes' check list for Friday was re-signing forward Erik Cole. Rutherford was aware Cole, 32, wanted to test free agency but was confident Cole would remain a Cane.

For much of the afternoon, Rutherford conferred with Cole's agent and remained confident. But the Montreal Canadiens finally offered Cole a four-year contract worth $18 million, figures the Hurricanes could not match and Cole could not turn down.

The Hurricanes were able to avoid free agency with defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forwards Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose and Patrick Dwyer, re-signing them this week. Tlusty was a restricted free agent who the Canes did not tender a qualifying offer, making him unrestricted on Friday, but was quickly re-signed.

Boucher and Brent received two-year contracts - Boucher for a total of $1.9 million and Brent $1.5 million. Ponikarovsky signed a one-year deal for $1.5 million, and Tlusty's one-year contract will pay him $525,000.

Ponikarovsky, 31, played much of his career for the Leafs and once was coached by Paul Maurice, the Canes coach. He had three 20-goal seasons with Toronto before being traded in March 2010 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and then signed with the Los Angeles Kings as a free agent last July.

But Ponikarovsky, a physical winger at 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, was hampered by groin injuries and limited to 62 games last season. Paid $3 million by the Kings, he had just five goals and 10 assists.

"There were some struggles, but it's a fresh start and I want to prove myself and get back to where I was before as a player," he said Friday.

Rutherford said Ponikarovsky might be used on Eric Staal's line but said he was not signed to replace Cole. Rutherford said the Canes might look to obtain another forward in a trade.

Brent, 27, was injured much of the 2009-10 season but bounced back last year with the Leafs to play 79 games. He won 52 percent of his faceoffs and starred on the Leafs' specialty teams, seeing some time at the point on the power play.

In a game last season against Carolina, Brent almost singlehandedly snuffed out a 5-on-3 power play by the Canes, going down to the ice three times to block shots.

"Looking at their lineup, they have Eric Staal and some good young players and a world-class goalie in Cam Ward," Brent said. "They seem to have all the makings to do well."

Boucher, 34, was brought in to spell Ward, who played a career-high 74 games last season. Boucher had an 18-10-4 regular-season record last season for the Philadelphia Flyers, with a 2.42 goals-against average, and was used in 11 playoff games, going 4-4 with a 3.13 GAA.

Rutherford said Boucher, who was recommended by Canes goaltending coach Tom Barrasso, might play 20 to 25 games.

"I've been around the block a few times," said Boucher, who has been with six NHL teams and had two stints with the Flyers. "If I can take some of the pressure and workload off Cam (Ward) and get him rested for the playoffs, I will have done my job."

Providing a bit of irony is that Boucher will replace goalie Justin Peters, who should be assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. Turns out Peters also was in the fishing tournament Friday with Brent and Ponikarovsky.

"It was a nerve-wracking day but an exciting one," Brent said, perhaps summing it up for everyone.

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

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