Former Leaf Jay McClement ready to accept his role with the Canes

07/04/2014 2:37 PM

07/04/2014 3:55 PM

As an unrestricted free agent, center Jay McClement was looking for more than just the highest bidder.

"I wanted it to be a good fit," McClement said Friday.

After talking with Canes general manager Ron Francis, after a chat with new coach Bill Peters, McClement made his decision -- Carolina was the right place for him. He signed a one-year, $1 million contract this week with the Canes.

"I really think I can come in and contribute there," he said. "It seems like a good opportunity for me. The role to be filled there will be the same as what I have done the past few years."

That is, to kill penalties, win faceoffs, play a physical brand of hockey. He'll likely be replacing Manny Malhotra as the Canes' fourth-line center and like Malhotra is an experienced, older player who can help some younger players develop.

McClement, 31, has played almost 700 regular-season and playoff games in stops with the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and then the Toronto Maple Leafs the past two seasons. He led the Leafs in face-off percentage last season at 53.6, ranking among the top 25 in the league, and had 141 hits.

In 2013, he was given the Guy Carbonneau Award the NHL's top penalty killer by The Hockey News after leading the league with 3:39 of shortahnded time per game. Last season, he led the Leafs with 3:25 in shorthanded time.

"I take pride in penalty killing," said McClement, an alternate captain for the Leafs. "That's been a big part of my role wherever I have been. Special teams can win games, and penalty killing can be the difference in winning and losing games."

With the Leafs, McClement had John-Michael Liles as a teammate until Jan. 1 this year, when Liles was traded to Carolina in the Tim Gleason deal. Now, both Liles and Gleason will be his teammates.

"It was tough (in Toronto) coming down the stretch last year," McClement said. "We were in a good spot, sitting well in the (Eastern) conference, but things can change quickly. In three weeks you can fall out of the playoffs and it's tough to play catchup. You start scoreboard watching and it's tough."

McClement hopes the Canes can end their five-year playoff drought this season. He had a taste of the playoffs with the Blues and then the Leafs two years ago, but wants more.

"New team, new coach. Should be exciting," McClement said.

Canes beat writer Chip Alexander

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