Strike one: Zach Parise, the most sought-after free agent of the summer, was the first to tell the Carolina Hurricanes they were no longer an option. That took all of five hours Sunday.
Strike two: Ryan Suter, the defenseman who was only a shade less pursued than Parise, slept on it before eliminating the Hurricanes on Monday morning. Both chose the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.
And now, strike three: After pushing hard to get a deal done with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and equally hard to get Rick Nash to waive his no-trade clause, the Hurricanes threw up their hands and dropped their pursuit of the high-scoring forward Thursday.
So thats Plan A, Plan B and Plan C out the window, with all kinds of backup plans off the market, five days into the game.
The Hurricanes went hard after some of the top targets on offer. They didnt land any of them, although they were off to a head start after trading for Jordan Staal and signing him to a long-term deal.
But even with a second Staal, there was still work to be done. Any of Parise, Suter and Nash would have bumped the Hurricanes talent quotient exponentially higher. With those three no longer options, the task gets more difficult.
Make no mistake, despite falling short, this was a big deal for the Hurricanes. Even making legitimate offers for free agents like Parise and Suter was a drastic and welcome departure from standard operating procedure. They went about it pragmatically, too: No mandate to spend for the sake of spending, as so often happens in the NHL, but specific amounts authorized for specific players.
Their pursuit of Parise and Suter was probably quixotic from the start, because they couldnt compete with the geography that drew Parise, and by extension Suter, to Minnesota. (Parise later said he would have re-signed with the New Jersey Devils if not for the opportunity to play where he grew up.)
Even if that hadnt been a factor, the Hurricanes were unable or unwilling to pay the kind of massive signing bonuses Parise and Suter demanded. Theyll each make $22 million in the first 366 days of their deals.
But otherwise, the money and the intent were there. The Hurricanes offered more than the annual average of $7.5 million, just not up front. And while the Wild have a good core of younger players, theres no question the Hurricanes are further along, particularly with Jordan Staal aboard.
Shut out of that process, they pushed hard on Nash. Just as rumors spread that he was wavering on waiving his no-trade clause, talks broke down for good over the Blue Jackets insistence Jeff Skinner be included. No chance of that, not after the Hurricanes already gave up Brandon Sutter to get Jordan Staal.
So now the Hurricanes are back at Square One. They dreamed big, but woke up empty-handed, and the options that remain are less than palatable.
Alexander Semin? Makes about as much sense as concrete sandals, which he often appears to be wearing when its time to get back on defense. Kyle Wellwood? The Hurricanes already are up to their ankles in 5-foot-10 forwards whose career high is 18 goals.
The Anaheim Ducks might be asking even more for forward Bobby Ryan than the Blue Jackets are for Nash, and the Nashville Predators have pledged to match any offer sheets for defenseman Shea Weber, even if the Hurricanes were willing to give up the four first-round picks it would require.
At least, unlike the Devils and Predators, both of whom tried hard to re-sign Parise and Suter respectively, the Hurricanes havent lost anything. Theyre just right back where they started Sunday morning.
DeCock: email@example.com, (919) 829-8947, Twitter: @LukeDeCock