Where to begin?
Just got back from the Hurricanes' press conference at the RBC Center. I'll have some quotes from that a little later. Still waiting to hear back from Cole and setting up calls with Pitkanen and others. So we'll have more up here -- including an updated depth/salary chart -- later.
Putting aside Cole's departure for the moment, let's start with Pitkanen. Yes, he's a restricted free agent, which means another team could make an offer sheet. (In fact, knowing the Canes would pretty much have to match anything or look ridiculous, it would be a really smart move by another Southeast Division team -- say, one that thinks the Canes are a bunch of no-account divers.)
But even though Jim Rutherford said he'd only had preliminary conversations with Pitkanen's agent, Larry Kelly, you have to figure the Canes wouldn't make this move unless they're sure they can sign him. They've got Cole's $4 million to throw around, so it shouldn't be an issue. And it turns out Pitkanen is buddies with Tuomo Ruutu, which should help.
Rutherford also said the Canes are trying to sign another defenseman, this time as a free agent, a more defensive guy. If they do, they'd then trade one of their current defensemen. Seems complicated to me.
He talked a little about Babchuk and their differences. More on that later. Rutherford's argument was that there aren't many defensemen out there for $1 million who can do what Babchuk does, so they let bygones be bygones.
To the point of mentioning his name, but not in so many words, Rutherford basically admitted that seeing John-Michael Liles sign kind of forced his hand on the Cole trade. I think if Liles had been available, they would have signed him and traded Cole for picks/prospects/etc. And they realized with Liles off the market, Hainsey was going to be way too expensive. So they pulled the trigger on this deal.
(Ironically enough, the Cole-to-Edmonton, Pitkanen-to-Carolina rumors that started at last year's draft in Columbus started with me and Jim Matheson, the Hall of Fame writer from the Edmonton Journal. There was a rumor that the Oilers were interested in an Eastern Conference forward -- I think it turned out to be Glen Murray -- and Matty asked me if Cole might be moved. I said maybe, but the Canes would have to get a defenseman back. So it would have to be a three-way deal. Someone's minions were eavesdropping and the next thing you know it's rated Q7. And then, less than 13 months later...)
In any case, Pitkanen may not have lived up to his hype as the fourth overall pick in 2002, but he had a solid year in Edmonton last season and a solid rookie year with Philadelphia and the sky's the limit. And he's a horse, a big guy.
But to get him, the Canes had to give up one of their most popular players, a player whose recovery from a broken neck was one of the most inspiring storylines of their Cup triumph. Cole alternately tantalized with his speed and size and frustrated with his inconsistency and injuries, but when healthy and on his game, as he was in 2005-06 until he broke his neck, he was unstoppable. My lasting memory of him in a Carolina uniform will be him throwing himself into the glass in Montreal after tying the score in the Miracle at Molson, one of many chapters in his domination of the Habs. Somewhere, Bob Gainey is sighing in relief.
Two other notes: The signings of Bayda, Brookbank and Conboy completes the promised renovation of Carolina's fourth line. The Canes tried to add Darcy Hordichuk and were rumored to be sniffing around a few other tough guys, but they'll stick with the energy guys who helped turn their season around last spring.
It's probably not the direction they totally intended to go, but it does reward three guys who played their butts off when it mattered most. Rookie Brandon Sutter will be given every chance to center that fourth line, although Kevyn Adams is a free agent (who better to give to fans mourning Cole's departure?) who has yet to sign anywhere. Bayda and Brookbank both got one-way deals; the second year of Conboy's deal is one-way.
Also, Rutherford said the payroll budget is going to fall around $45-46 million, which will probably put the Canes in the bottom third of the NHL -- and means they're pretty much maxed out now.