Luke DeCock

July 5, 2013

DeCock: Quietly and cheaply, Hurricanes get better

While many NHL teams spent millions of dollars and handed out massive long-term contracts on Friday, the opening day of free agency, the Hurricanes got better at two positions without spending a ton of money or entering into any long-term commitments.

You don’t have to make a big splash or spend millions of dollars on the first day of NHL free agency to make your team better. Many of the teams that did Friday actually got worse, overpaying for guys who won’t be able to fill the roles their gaudy new salaries demand.

The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t often big players on this day, and they weren’t again Friday. They still got better.

The low-profile signings of Mike Komisarek, looking to resurrect a career that went sour with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and former Boston Bruins backup goalie Anton Khudobin could pay huge dividends for the Hurricanes, and for a total of $1.5 million on one-year contracts.

Khudobin played well in relief of Tuuka Rask last season, and for $800,000 he’s an affordable and useful safety net for Cam Ward. It’s the addition of Komisarek, though, that has the potential to reap the greatest rewards, filling a massive need on the Hurricanes’ blue line at a modest $700,000.

At his best, Komisarek is the kind of big, physically imposing defenseman the Hurricanes have lacked for years. At 6 feet 4, 235 pounds, he’s instantly their largest player. He’s only 31, so if he can turn things around – he played only four NHL games last season, spending long stretches as a healthy scratch – and likes playing here, there should be plenty of tread left on his tires.

Even if not, there’s no long-term commitment, and the Long Island native is a thoughtful, engaging guy who has the potential to provide some of the veteran leadership and stability the Hurricanes lacked last season when things turned sour.

“At the end of the day, you look for a change of scenery and a chance and an opportunity,” Komisarek said. “It wasn’t really about the contract or the money or anything like that. This is a place I wanted to go.”

The Hurricanes hope he can be the commanding force he was for the Montreal Canadiens during that epic first-round series against the Hurricanes in 2006. If nothing else, being a part of that series and seeing what hockey here can be at its best helped paved Komisarek’s way to Carolina among his many offers, although his relationship with former Montreal assistant and current Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller played a major role as well. (As did getting out of the hockey limelight in Toronto.)

Just as swapping Andrej Sekera for Jamie McBain was an improvement last weekend -- albeit at the cost of a second-round draft pick -- swapping Khudobin for Justin Peters is an upgrade as Ward’s No. 2, while Komisarek’s arrival means the Hurricanes won’t have to depend on unproven rookies Brett Bellemore and Ryan Murphy, a folly they were openly considering going into Friday.

With first-round draft pick Elias Lindholm now inked -- not penciled -- into the lineup as the third-round center, the Hurricanes have gotten better. The only question is whether it’s enough to compete in their brutal new division.

“If you add in the changes and you add in (Tuomo) Ruutu to the team that we had in the first half of last season, we’re certainly a good enough team to compete in our conference,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. “That’s what I would expect us to do.”

There were some astonishing contracts thrown around, as there always are. (After a $128 million frenzy of buyouts ealier this week, many future buyouts were put in motion Friday.) Quietly, the Hurricanes made only two moves, but they were sane, reasonable ones.

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