Free agency in the NHL is a funny thing. Very little ends up being as it seems, reason goes out the window and even mild-mannered men like Montreal's Bob Gainey end up flinging money around like a Sex and the City character in a shoe store.
As far as the Hurricanes are concerned, it's funny how much can change overnight. When we went to bed Tuesday, general manager Jim Rutherford's last public statement indicated that Erik Cole was ticketed elsewhere and there was a chance Chad LaRose might return to the nest quickly after testing the market.
By the time the biscuits came out of the oven Wednesday, the door was open for Cole to return and LaRose had been bid farewell. So far, that's what has happened -- Cole signed for two years at an average of $2.9 million a year and LaRose remains a free agent, with Rutherford now dangling an impending signing in front of the fan base.
We'll never know what changed, whether there were external factors in play or whether Rutherford was blowing smoke all along. We do know that Cole's contract seems in line with what we would have expected the Hurricanes to offer him in the first place, and it seems like a fair deal for both sides. Cole gets an extra year, the Hurricanes save more than $1 million per season on what he was making before.
As for LaRose, at this point he must have some tentative offers on the table paying him in excess of $2 million a season, because it's easy to imagine the Hurricanes going that high (although perhaps not for three years)
If the Hurricanes land a free agent like Taylor Pyatt or Nik Antropov (who had one of his best seasons playing for Paul Maurice in Toronto) today, then they'll have traded LaRose's skill and hustle for size, which the Hurricanes desperately need on the wings. Hard to argue with that allocation of the money.
But if the LaRose salary slot goes to another waterbug -- or to no one at all -- the departure of the popular LaRose will be tough to stomach for a fan base that had low expectations to begin with this offseason. The Hurricanes made it clear they won't pursue the desperately needed defensive upgrade a la Francois Beauchemin, that the goal is the status quo.
Given their financial constraints, that's understandable. But losing LaRose and not replacing him with a player of like value (but presumably bigger and stronger) would be tough to understand.