Busy Hurricanes sign 3 new free agents

The Carolina Hurricanes added three free agents Friday, signing

two-year contracts with goalie Brian Boucher and center Tim Brent

and reaching a one-year deal with forward Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Boucher’s $1.9 million deal will pay him $900,000 this season

and $1 million in 2012-13. The veteran made $925,000 last season

with Philadelphia, and was 18-10 with a 2.42 goals-against average

as part of the Flyers’ three-goalie rotation.

”He’s a guy that we’ve always liked,” Carolina general manager

Jim Rutherford said. ”He’s just one of those guys that fits into a

team nicely. … A hard-working guy, a great team guy, a guy that

can give you a stretch of 8-10 games if necessary, if your No. 1

guy gets hurt.”

Acquiring a fourth-line center and an experienced backup goalie

behind Cam Ward were the Hurricanes’ top two priorities of the

offseason, and they took care of both hours after free agency

started at noon Friday.

Rutherford said he wants Boucher to play between 20-25 games.

Last year’s backup, Justin Peters, is scheduled to spend this

season at Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte so he can play more

often and continue his development.

Ponikarovsky will make $1.5 million this season. He had just

five goals in 61 games with Los Angeles last season after scoring

at least 18 goals in each of his previous five NHL campaigns.

Brent will make $700,000 this season and $800,000 in 2012-13. He

made $575,000 last season with Toronto, and had eight goals and 12

assists in 79 games with the Maple Leafs.

He had two goals and an assists in a loss to the Carolina in

January, then blocked a handful of shots in a rematch the following

week.

”We liked him before that,” Rutherford said. ”Aside from

(those performances), he’s a good fit in that role as a fourth-line

center.”

Carolina also re-signed center Jiri Tlusty to a one-year deal

worth $525,000. Tlusty had six goals and six assists in 57 games

last season.

The Hurricanes re-signed most of their potential free agents,

reaching deals with forwards Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose and

defenseman Joni Pitkanen this week.

But Rutherford said popular forward Erik Cole turned down

Carolina’s attempt to keep him, instead signing with Montreal for

$18 million over four years.

”I do think the best thing for us to do right now with the

budgeted money that we had for Erik Cole is to sit, wait until the

dust settles and possibly try to (replace) him through a trade,”

Rutherford said. ”If we don’t find the player we like, that just

moves some of the younger players up quicker. … That’ll be a

tough spot to fill.”