Jim Rutherford walked the walk this summer

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It was early May when Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford let his intentions be known.

“What we’re working on now is whatever it takes to get a top player, whether it’s a center or a wing,” Rutherford told the Raleigh News and Observer, explaining he’d go whatever route it took to acquire one. “In free agency, you don’t have control over where a player decides to go.

“If you trade for a player and he’s under contract, you know he’s coming to the Hurricanes.”

This statement, in conjunction with Carolina owner Peter Karmanos opening his checkbook, kicked off arguably the most exciting offseason in franchise history.

The ‘Canes spent like crazy. The same club that had the NHL’s fourth-lowest payroll last year (seventh-lowest in 2010-11) dropped $60 million on Jordan Staal, $34 million on Jeff Skinner and $7 million for a year’s worth of Alex Semin.

Rutherford called Semin’s short-term, big-money deal a “pretty strong statement about where we feel our team’s at.”

Carolina also showed aggression in pursuing other players. Known for bringing back familiar faces in free agency and trades — think Cory Stillman, Erik Cole, Joe Corvo — Carolina flipped several key assets to acquire the highly-coveted Staal, then still went out and targeted the likes of Zach Parise and Rick Nash.

Rutherford’s actions indicated a deep belief in his group, one that rallied under Kirk Muller last season to go 25-20-12 to close out the year (7-4-1 over the final 12 games.)

And this isn’t the first time he’s made bold moves to bolster his team.

During Carolina’s cup run of 2005-06, Rutherford made several key acquisitions during the season. In the span of two months he traded for Anton Babchuck, Doug Weight and Mark Recchi, the latter two combining for 32 playoff points.

While it’s tough to compare that 2005-06 team to the current ‘Canes, comparisons can be made with regards to excitement levels.

Rutherford told ESPN the club’s reached “an all-time high” in season ticket sales and a nice spike in television revenue as well.

“We are a much stronger team going into the season than we have been in a long time,” Rutherford said. “There’s been a lot of excitement created.”

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Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.