RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes wanted to add one top-shelf forward this off-season. They got two.
By trading for Jordan Staal and signing Alexander Semin, the Hurricanes have sent a clear message: They’re in it to win—now.
“It’s easy for me to say we stack up fine, but you really don’t know until you play the games,” general manager Jim Rutherford said Friday. “But I will say we are a much stronger team going into the season than we have been in a long time.”
Carolina continued its productive off-season this week by signing Semin, who made it almost a month into free agency before finding a new team, to a one-year, $7 million contract. That came after a draft-day trade for Staal—the brother of captain Eric Staal—and locking him up with a 10-year extension worth $6 million per year.
“Management and ownership are really investing in this team, which is always exciting news,” said Jordan Staal, who was in town Friday looking for a house. “To have more depth and bring in players like that, there’s definitely movement, and hopefully we can really, as players, start playing some great hockey and hopefully find a way to win.”
The Semin signing brought the payroll to roughly $57 million, up about $5 million from this time last year, Rutherford said.
Owner Peter Karmanos Jr. gave the GM the financial flexibility to make the Semin deal and Rutherford said the recent spending splurge has been offset by additional television revenue and by what he called “an all-time high” in season ticket sales, though he didn’t have specific figures.
“There’s been a lot of excitement created,” Rutherford said, “and that’s going to mean new revenue.”
The acquisitions of Staal and Semin address the team’s stated off-season objective of adding scoring punch. But there was a side benefit to those moves, plus their legitimate pursuit of free agent Zach Parise and their attempts to trade for Rick Nash. Taken together, they seemed to state to the rest of the league that the small-market club is serious about winning.
“Certainly, the fact that we are now going out and paying a free agent $7 million is making a pretty strong statement about where we feel our team’s at,” Rutherford said, “and where we think we can go.”
And they’re not entirely finished, either.
Rutherford said he’d like to add a “gritty forward or a tough guy” to protect skill players such as former rookie of the year Jeff Skinner, who missed 16 games last season with a concussion. But he said that deal wouldn’t necessarily have to come before the season starts.
Rutherford said Semin was No. 2 on his free agent wish list behind only Parise, who signed with Minnesota.
The enigmatic former first-round pick—who became the fifth-leading scorer in Washington Capitals history during seven seasons with them—is one of 18 NHL players to average at least 30 goals during the last six years and has 197 goals and 211 assists in his career. His scoring was down to 21 goals and 33 assists while the Capitals played a more defensive-oriented style in 2011-12.
“I know Alexander can do some damage and play some great hockey,” Jordan Staal said. “Hopefully, we can make an impact.”
Rutherford said he spoke to a substantial list of people—including former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau—to get a clearer picture of Semin and said there’s minimal risk with a one-year deal.
“We got a very talented player, we didn’t lock in for a long period of time and then find out it’s not working,” Rutherford said. “And we didn’t have to trade for him.”
If nothing else, he won’t be able to torment the Hurricanes on the ice anymore. His career totals of 27 goals and 45 points against them are his most against any team.
“I’ve always had a very strong opinion of him as a player. Of course, we see it firsthand—he certainly hasn’t been a friend of the Hurricanes as an opponent,” Rutherford said. “We’d like to think the way (new coach Kirk Muller) does things and with our approach and how our training camp is, and how our practices are and fitting him with Eric that we can get consistency out of him.
“And if we can, he’s a guy that certainly is capable of getting back to the 40-goal mark.”