Erik Cole did test NHL free agency today. For more than three hours.
By 3 p.m., the Canes had signed center Tim Brent and goaltender Brian Boucher to new contracts. They had tied down forward Jiri Tlusty for another year. The wait began to hear back from Cole.
Finally, at 3:30 p.m., it was announced by TSN that Cole was leaving Carolina. The veteran winger signed a four-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens worth $18 million -- figures the Canes could not and would not match.
Cole scored 26 goals this past season, playing all 82 games. He led the team with nine game-winning goals and helped rookie forward Jeff Skinner adjust to the NHL.
Two years ago, Cole briefly became a free agent before agreeing to a two-year contract with the Canes. He earned $3 million this past season.
In the past week, the Canes have signed Joni Pitkanen, Patrick Dwyer, Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen to new deals, keeping them out of the free-agent mix today. But Cole was the one who got away.