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.”