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LaRose and Cole not signing and Gleason invitied to train with U.S.A.

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Source: News and Observer

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford did not sound like a happy man Tuesday.

The NHL's free agency signing period begins today at noon, and Rutherford didn't want to play that game. Rutherford had hoped to have forwards Erik Cole and Chad LaRose, both unrestricted free agents, signed, sealed and in the Canes' fold.

But Rutherford said Tuesday that he was informed Cole would not agree to a new contract with Carolina before the deadline and would test the free-agent market. LaRose will do the same, according to his agent, Patrick Morris.

Cole, 30, signed a three-year, $12 million pact with Carolina in July 2006, just after the Canes' Stanley Cup run. To keep him in Raleigh, Cole has been offered a two-year contract that Rutherford said would pay him less than the $4 million Cole earned last season.

"We know it's less than what his last contract was, but we've done it for reasons," Rutherford said. "There were the inconsistencies [in Cole's play], the playoff performance without him scoring a goal. He understands why."

Cole's agent, Steve Bartlett, said he wanted to keep the "lines of communication" open with the Hurricanes after today but said they needed to find out Cole's market value in uncertain economic times.

"Get a feel for the temperature out there and what's available," Bartlett said.

Rutherford, in turn, is cool to that idea.

"We don't close the door 100 percent on anyone," he said. "But the offer we made is the best we can make. Once a player goes out into free agency and starts shopping around, that's something we're not excited about."

LaRose, paid $875,000 last season, has been offered a three-year contract, Morris said Tuesday night. That's what LaRose is seeking, he said. But there is no agreement on the financial end.

"They have not made an offer that would make Chad say, 'OK, let's stay on board,' " said Morris, of Newport Sports Management in Mississauga, Ontario. "He likes Carolina. He wants to stay. But the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] allows him to see how others feel about him."

Rutherford already is resigned to losing defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, an unrestricted free agent whose market value could be well above the $1.2 million salary he had last season.

"Ideally, from my point of view, I would like to bring the whole team back with the exception of Dennis," Rutherford said. "We may not be able to do that."

The Canes signed restricted free agent Jussi Jokinen to a two-year, $3.4 million contract on Monday. Rutherford said qualifying offers have been made to restricted free agents Tuomo Ruutu, who scored a career-high 26 goals last season, and defenseman Anton Babchuk.

"It was important to get Jussi signed, and we know we will get Tuomo signed one way or the other," Rutherford said.

Rutherford also expects Babchuk, whose one-year contract paid him $1 million last season, to return.

In past years, the arrival of noon on July 1 -- the official start of the free agent signing period -- was like the bell being sounded at the New York Stock Exchange. In quick order, some player-grabbing general managers matched up with cash-grabbing players.

But that was then. While the NHL salary cap has been bumped up a total of $17.7 million over the last three years, to $56.7 million last season, it will increase by only $100,000 next season.

Some general managers, with a nod to the economy and the potential for declining revenue, are anticipating the salary cap dropping after next season to perhaps $52 million or $53 million. Some teams are feeling the salary-cap squeeze.

"There will be some free-agent signings and some good contracts this year, but I don't think there will be as many ... as in past years," Rutherford said. "If we do not sign a free agent right away, it's because we want to be patient and wait until the market levels off. We can wait until August and see what's available and what we need."

Note: Defenseman Tim Gleason has been invited to the U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey orientation camp, set for Aug. 17-19 in Woodridge, Ill.

Gleason is one of 34 NHL players invited to participate in the USA Hockey camp that will assist in the preparation of the U.S. team for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

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It'd be nice to have them both returning, but it's not make or break if we can't bring them back. I'm surprised at Tim Gleason getting invited to that after our defense's collective performance in the playoffs, but I suppose that wouldn't be fair to judge his abilities just on those games. Glad that we got Jussi resigned and looking forward to have Tuomo on the team still.

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