RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes signed goaltender Anton Khudobin on Tuesday to a two-year contract worth $4.5 million.
Whether that's a prelude to another significant move before the NHL's trade deadline remains to be seen.
General manager Jim Rutherford said Monday he hoped to have a deal with Khudobin completed prior to the Wednesday 3 p.m. deadline. He also said his preference was that the Canes keep two goalies on the roster for the final 20 games.
Cam Ward has been sidelined much of this season with lower-body injuries, playing in 21 games. The team's No. 1 goalie since the Stanley Cup run in 2006, Ward has two years remaining on his contract with a $6.3 million salary-cap hit each season.
Justin Peters was assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL for a conditioning stint on Feb. 19. He is due to return to the team soon and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Khudobin, 27, will be paid $2 million in the 2014-2015 season and $2.5 million in 2015-2016. He signed a one-year, $800,000 free-agent contract with Carolina last July.
"He's been real good for us and earned a new contract, and this signing strengthens our goaltending going forward the next two years," Rutherford said Tuesday.
Khudobin was brought in to become Ward's backup but has emerged as the Canes' most effective goaltender despite an ankle injury early in the second that kept him out more than two months. He has a 13-8-0 record, with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, and was named the NHL's first star of the month for January after notching 10 victories.
"We knew he was good and believed he would upgrade our goaltending when we signed him," Rutherford said. "We knew little about his personality. But he has fit in well, played well. We believe he's capable of being a No. 1 goalie in this league."
A few years ago, Ward was considered one of the Canes' untouchables when it came to discussing potential trades. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2006 when the Canes won the Cup, he has been the team's undisputed No. 1 goalie since that rookie season.
But Ward, who turned 30 last week, has been hampered by injuries the past few seasons. He played in 17 games in the abbreviated NHL season last year, missing the final 27 games because of a knee injury, and has twice been sidelined this season.
Rutherford said Ward has been pressing but added, "We still think he can do it and get the job done, whether Khudobin is No. 1 or No. 2."
It's believed some NHL teams have expressed interest in Canes forward Tuomo Ruutu, who helped Finland win a bronze medal in the Sochi Games. Ruutu, who has two years left on his contract with a $4.75 million cap hit, could be a good fit on a Cup contender looking to add a physical player.
Ruutu has a no-movement clause in his contract and would have to approve any deal. Ward has a no-trade clause, as do defensemen Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles.
The Canes' unrestricted free agents after the season will include Peters, Komisarek, defenseman Ron Hainsey and forwards Manny Malhotra and Radek Dvorak. But Rutherford did not sound like someone ready to make wholesale moves Wednesday.
"We want to continue to improve regardless of where we end up this season," Rutherford said. "The addition of Ron Hainsey has been a good one. We need to be careful because we have some who have played well for us. We're open to talking to teams but we do not want to take a step backward."
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