RALEIGH — The offseason was less than two days old and already, the question that wasnt answered last summer was the first question of this summer: Will the Carolina Hurricanes finally get someone to play with Eric Staal?
Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said all the right things Monday: there will be money to pursue a high-profile free agent or trade target to play on Staals wing. The whispering campaign has been under way for a while that the Hurricanes are gathering together the funds to target New Jersey Devils free agent Zach Parise, but so will just about every other team in the league.
Itll take big bucks to play in that game. The Hurricanes claim they have them.
Rutherford said increased corporate and ticket revenue, along with the renegotiated television deal with FS Carolinas that begins in the fall of 2013, will give the Hurricanes money to spend. The millions collected from Peter Karmanos new minority owners have to figure, as well. Either way, it would be the first time since the Hurricanes successfully pursued Ron Francis in 1998 the franchise goes shopping in that particular neighborhood.
Based on my conversation with Mr. Karmanos, weve talked about a top-line player, Rutherford said. He agrees that thats something we want to do. Not what weve done in the past with free agents, where we go to the second-tier free-agent group, or the third tier or the fourth tier, but a top-line player. If its available by free agency or trade, were going to do everything we can to make that happen this year.
The Hurricanes loved Parise in 2003, when they took Staal with the second overall pick, but werent able to work a deal to get back into the first round to take Parise. They want a second chance.
Even if the Hurricanes miss out on Parise, that doesnt mean all is lost. In 2005, they made a push for Paul Kariya, who chose to sign with the Nashville Predators, and ended up signing Ray Whitney instead one of those rare occasions where the consolation prize was more valuable than the grand prize.
Staal finished the year playing with Jiri Tlusty and Chad LaRose, both of whom had career-highs in goals, albeit only 17 and 19 respectively. Staal flourished under Muller, but only after cringing when Erik Cole wasnt replaced during another frustrating offseason.
For me, yeah, it can be (frustrating), Staal said. Obviously I have the utmost respect for Jim and for Pete and the business that they run. Im a player for them and I will compete and work and do everything I can to try and help us win games. The last couple (summers) have been difficult because of losing Colesy and Whit, guys that were very good players and who went on to be very good players on other teams.
But I still think weve got some good pieces here and young players who will hopefully get better next year. If we can add, like theyve been saying, well see what happens.
Staal said hes willing to help with any recruiting effort. Muller will no doubt be the centerpiece, a Stanley Cup champion as a player who shows every sign of having the tools to win one as a coach.
The Hurricanes can always make a convincing pitch to free agents, but have never had the money to back it up. This summer, they say they have the cash to make a splash.
DeCock: email@example.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947