RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes know their coach will be back next season. They’re still waiting to find out whether two of their aging defencemen will join him.
General manager Jim Rutherford said Friday that the team would retain coach Peter Laviolette, who in 2006 led the Hurricanes to their only Stanley Cup. Rutherford, however, was unaware of any final decisions from defencemen Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley about their plans for 2008-09.
Speculation swirled for the past month about Laviolette’s future after Carolina missed the playoffs in both seasons after its championship run.
“This has (got) a little blown out of proportion,” Rutherford said.
Laviolette met this week in Raleigh with owner Peter Karmanos Jr. as part of the team’s standard post-season review, which came roughly five weeks after the GM expressed dissatisfaction with a dismal early season stretch that ultimately cost the Hurricanes a spot in the playoffs. Carolina – which led the Southeast Division for much of the season – also faltered late and finished two points behind division winner Washington.
“Unfortunately in this case, when we went through the natural process when the year ends, it seems like there was speculation, like everybody was waiting on a decision on Peter,” Rutherford said. “We never said there was going to be a change with him. It was driven by speculation. . . . I think that the speculation was a little beyond what it should have been.”
Laviolette has three years remaining on the contract he signed in June 2006. The former New York Islanders coach was hired by Carolina in 2003 and is 155-119-28 in four seasons, winning the Cup in his second season.
With Laviolette’s immediate future decided, the waiting game continues for Hedican and Wesley.
The 37-year-old Hedican has spent much of the past month with his wife, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, while she competes on “Dancing With the Stars.” Wesley turns 40 on Oct. 2 and has spent 13 of his 20 NHL seasons with the Hurricanes franchise both before and after its 1997 move from Hartford.
“I expect when Bret gets back into town after he’s finished Dancing with the Stars, we’ll get a meeting with him,” Rutherford said. “Glen’s been with us a long time. He’s got as long as he wants to make his decision. He can either play here as long as he wants, or he can work in our organization as long as he wants. We’ll just give him lots of time to make a decision that makes sense for him and his family.”
Last month, Rutherford wasted little time addressing his top off-season priority by locking up productive right winger Sergei Samsonov with a US$7.6-million, three-year deal.
Now, his focus is on re-signing physical defenceman Tim Gleason, who could become a restricted free agent July 1. Gleason is considered Carolina’s key acquisition in the 2006 trade that sent promising defenceman Jack Johnson to Los Angeles. The 25-year-old had three goals, 16 assists and 84 penalty minutes in 80 games last season.
“Tim’s a young defenceman (and) he’s getting better as time goes on,” Rutherford said. “He’s starting to come into his prime, and he should be a mainstay on our defence for a long time.”