RALEIGH — There has never been a day like this, not in the history of the Carolina Hurricanes, not ever. A week after they swung the blockbuster trade of the NHL draft, bringing in Jordan Staal, they jumped up to the NHL’s heavyweight division on the first day of free agency.
They were right there swinging for the three biggest names available, making pitches for free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and tabling a trade offer for Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash – all mere hours after signing Staal to a franchise-record 10-year, $60 million contract extension.
The Hurricanes struck out on Parise, who notified them they were not among his finalists Sunday evening, but they left PNC Arena for the night hopeful they might yet be able to convince Suter and Nash to join the Brothers Staal.
Parise. Suter. Nash. Decade-long contracts. A long-time fan could be forgiven for thinking the heat was provoking hallucinations. Are these really the Hurricanes, being mentioned in the same breath as the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, the big-money boys?
“It’s exciting for us,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. “We’re in the mix, with the big teams, when we haven’t been in the past.”
Any doubt about their identity was quickly erased when they, as always, brought back a former player. It wasn’t Ray Whitney, as many expected – the Wizard, at 40, cashed in with a two-year, $9 million deal with the Dallas Stars, an offer the Hurricanes declined to match – but defenseman Joe Corvo, who agreed to a one-year deal to play alongside Tim Gleason and fill the right-shot void in Carolina’s top six.
If it weren’t for that, it might be hard to believe any of this was happening. Rutherford, after joining the long list of teams making massive offers to Parise and Suter, sat ready to grab coach Kirk Muller and head to the airport at a moment’s notice to meet with either of the sought-after free agents if invited.
“It’s easy to sell what you’re trying to sell to these guys,” Muller said. “It’s an attractive spot to be. That’s what’s fun about today. I feel confident as we sit here, as we talk to these people, we’re in the game with everyone else.”
So what changed from all the years when the Hurricanes sat and watched as the top free agents in the game moved around the league? Money and ambition, of course. It wasn’t a total blank check, and Rutherford said the Hurricanes weren’t willing to offer the big signing bonuses other teams were throwing around, but owner Peter Karmanos was willing to authorize certain big contracts for certain big players.
That was enough to get the Hurricanes into the mix. Who knows how far that will take them.
It didn’t get them Parise, and it may or may not land Suter. As for Nash, the Columbus Dispatch reported he doesn’t have Carolina on the list of teams to which he will accept a trade, nor does he intend on changing that.
So all this intrigue may yet end up fizzling out, no matter how hard the Hurricanes push. They pushed, though. They pushed hard. They played the game. Parise had a difficult decision to make, as Suter does now, but the Hurricanes were and are part of the equation.
For at least one day, it was a different franchise. If Parise had come here, it might have changed the franchise forever. If Suter or Nash end up coming here, it still could.
DeCock: email@example.com, 919-829-8947, Twitter: @LukeDeCock