Canes forwards Erik Cole and Chad LaRose, as unrestricted free agents, went on the open market at noon today when the NHL signing period began.
But for how long?
Canes general manager Jim Rutherford said today that although there are no guarantees, Cole may wind up returning. He said Cole has said he will not drag out the free-agent process.
"Erik is working hard to work with us," Rutherford said. "He'll still go into free agency but has said he will not stay out there long if he does not see a big deal he can get.
"I don't think we're far apart with Erik. We've had several good conversations in the last 24 hours in Erik's case. I see his point of view. He's willing to take a pay cut but wants to see if there's a big deal out there. There's not the same frustration with Erik."
LaRose is coming off a career season in which he scored 19 goals. He was paid $875,000 last season and may be able to secure a better deal on the open market than Carolina has offered.
"I'd like to sign both," Rutherford said. "My position has changed. I only have so much (money) to do it. If we can do it within those numbers, we'll do it."
Another negotiating snag also has developed. Defenseman Anton Babchuk, a restricted free agent, was given a qualifying offer of $1 million — the same salary as last season — and Rutherford said Babchuk has said he will not play for the qualifier.
Babchuk has no arbitration rights. He could return to Russia to play hockey. Another option could be the Canes trading him.
"We have an issue with Babchuk," Rutherford said.