Getty Images"We're really looking for a player that's in the prime of his career in his 20s, and so where do you get that player? Free agency is a possibility. There's not going to be many of them. But if that player is available, we will have the resources to go after that player."
That was Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford during his end-of-season availability with the media in April. The 'Canes were going to be aggressive during the off-season after having missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
On Day 1 of the Draft last month, Rutherford made his first splash acquiring Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins and joining him up with his brother, Eric. On Thursday, he completed a long courting of Alex Semin with a 1-year, $7 million deal for next season. Instead of one player in the prime of his career, he was able to add two to the Carolina roster for next season.
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In the eyes of some, Semin has questions marks about his play. Rutherford acknowledged earlier this month that he'd heard stories about him and that the team was still interested in a short-term deal.
So how did Rutherford and his staff go about freeing their minds about the Semin rumors? Plenty of research.
During an availability with media Friday morning Rutherford said that he spoke with Semin's former coach in Washington, Bruce Boudreau during the Draft. Other Hurricanes executives reached out to former players, former coaches and former scouts to get their opinions on the 28-year old Russian. Their takeaway? "The positives much outweighed the people that had a negative experience with him," said Rutherford.
Rutherford already had his own opinion on Semin having watched him score 27 times and post 45 points in 41 career games against the Hurricanes -- the most for Semin against any NHL team. The team also used analytics in weighing their decision, as detailed by head PR man Mike Sunheim's Tweets after the signing was announced. They didn't allow the perception about Semin to cloud their judgement in whether or not to pursue him.
"Part of getting a bad rap as a player is sometimes because of the player and sometimes because of the mix of players that's on that team," said Rutherford. "The mix of players on a team sometimes starts to push a player away."
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The 1-year deal, Rutherford said, is an opportunity to see if the move is a fit for both sides. Next summer Semin will once again be an unrestricted free agent and with a good season will attract plenty of attention around the NHL, as well as offers from the KHL.
Bringing on Staal, signing him to a 10-year, $60 million deal and then spending $7 million on Semin shows the belief from the organization that this is the season Carolina can get out of the hole they've been in.
Thanks to increased revenues and, according to Rutherford, ticket sales that are at an all-time high, the team is wisely spending in areas to surround players like captain Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner with even more talent. Carolina hasn't been a top-10 team in goals scored since the 2007-08 season. These moves will help, not just offensively.
"The Jordan Staal acquisition [helped strengthen perception of team], but certainly the fact that now going out and paying a free agent $7 million is making a pretty strong statement where we feel our team's at and where we think we can go," said Rutherford.
Rutherford isn't the only one bullish on the 'Canes. Online betting site Bovada had Carolina listed as 50/1 favorites last month for the 2013 Stanley Cup. As of this morning they're down to 18/1.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy