RALEIGH — Having lost right wing Erik Cole to free agency, the Carolina Hurricanes made another move Saturday to help fill that void.
The Canes signed right wing Anthony Stewart to a two-year contract that will pay him $800,000 next season and $1 million in the 2012-2013 season. Stewart, 26, played a career-high 80 games last season for the Atlanta Thrashers - now the Winnipeg Jets - and finished with 14 goals and 25 assists, also career bests.
"He was on our short list of free agents," Canes general manager Jim Rutherford said Saturday. "Once Erik made the decision to go elsewhere, we looked at him a lot closer.
"Last year was his first full year in the league and he took a big step forward. He's a big guy who skates well. We feel that step forward should be continued at this point in time. With his size, he can do a lot of things and especially when he's going to the net."
The Hurricanes hoped to re-sign Cole on Friday as NHL free agency began but could not match the four-year, $18 million offer to the veteran forward made by the Montreal Canadiens. Soon after Cole signed with the Habs, Carolina signed forward Alexei Ponikarovsky to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
Rutherford said Friday the Hurricanes would continue to look at possible trades in order to pick up a top-nine forward to help replace Cole, a 26-goal scorer last season. He said Saturday that has not changed despite the Stewart signing.
"But it does take the urgency out of us having to do anything before the start of the season," Rutherford said. "We will keep a watch out for any players we feel can upgrade our team, but we are not pressed to do so."
Stewart, listed at 6 feet 3 and 230 pounds, was the first-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers - the 25th overall selection - in 2003. He has played in 185 NHL regular-season games with the Panthers and Thrashers.
Last season, Stewart had a hat trick in the Thrashers' fourth game and had notched 10 goals by the end of December. He had just four goals the rest of the way, going goal-less the last 23 games of the season.
Stewart told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the season that the biggest lesson learned was, "You can't read your own headlines and take things for granted."
A restricted free agent, Stewart was not given a qualifying offer by the Jets and became an unrestricted free agent Friday.
"It's really about a player learning that it's about the preparation in the offseason and being prepared for training camp and ready to play 82 games," Rutherford said. "Sometimes, it takes guys a little while to understand that."
Stewart was not the Canes' only acquisition Saturday. They also added to their depth at forward by signing left wing Justin Soryal to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $525,000 at the NHL level or $80,000 at the minor-league level next season.
Soryal, 24, is a bruising type at 6-3 and 211 pounds who ranked 11th in the American Hockey League with 220 penalty minutes this past season playing for the Connecticut Whale.
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