Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday he has met with forward Tuomo Ruutu to discuss Ruutu's future with the team, and said a decision should be reached next week.
Rutherford said Ruutu, due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season ends, expressed a desire to stay with the team and in Raleigh.
"These meetings are to see where the player is at, what they think of the team, whether he likes being in the organization, those things," Rutherford said by phone from Denver, Colo. "Tuomo is a player we really like, and he said he likes being with the team. That's an important first step and we had a good meeting.
"The next hurdle may be the bigger hurdle, but at least we know we're on the same page."
The "hurdle" will be the length of the contract and the dollars involved. Ruutu, who leads the Canes with 17 goals after scoring Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks, has a $4.4 million salary this season.
Rutherford said he did not discuss contract details with Ruutu but now would begin that process with Ruutu's agent, Bill Zito. Ruutu, who turns 29 this month, is believed to be seeking a long-term deal.
Rutherford had not negotiated a contract with a Hurricanes player during the season until this year, when he re-signed defenseman Tim Gleason to a four-year contract extension worth $16 million.
"We have now made re-signing Tuomo a priority," Rutherford said. "If we're not able to agree, both sides need to have some leeway and some options. We need to make a decision and he needs to make a decision."
Ruutu still could be traded before the NHL's Feb. 27 trade deadline. The two sides may not be able to come to an agreement on a contract that fits the needs of each. If so, it could make financial sense for both.
Rutherford said he would not put a number on the amount of teams that have inquired about acquiring Ruutu, a physical forward who can play center or the wing and has been on the Canes' top line with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty.
Ruutu's goal Wednesday gave the Canes a 1-0 first-period lead over the Ducks at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Staal scored early in the third period but the Ducks rallied for a 3-2 overtime victory.
The game had a controversial ending that irked everyone in the Canes' camp. Winger Jussi Jokinen was tripped by the Ducks' Corey Perry behind the Carolina net in overtime, but no penalty was called. Play continued and moments later Perry scored the winner.
Rutherford said he talked with league officials about the non-call a couple of times Thursday and had a conversation with Terry Gregson, the NHL's director of officiating.
"I don't want to get into the details but I feel fine with how the league is handling the situation," Rutherford said. "It's unfortunate the game was decided the way it was."
The Canes face the Colorado Avalanche tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver, and it could present an unsettling memory for Ruutu. Two seasons ago, Ruutu was suspended for three games by the NHL for his hit on then-Avs forward Darcy Tucker in the game in Denver.