Maurice's sacrifices have worked out for Carolina

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

Jim Rutherford has heard all the theories suggesting he rehired Paul Maurice three months ago because of their long-time friendship. The mere insinuation still irks him.

In a phone interview from Raleigh yesterday, the Carolina Hurricanes general manager shot down the popular notion that his relationship with Maurice played a role in the decision to have Maurice come in for a second stint as Canes' coach.

"I would not have brought Paul back if I did not think it was the best move for the team at the time. Period," Rutherford said. "There are other ways to help a friend."

Rutherford said Maurice sacrificed a lot in order to take the job.

"People have missed the real story about this whole thing," Rutherford said. "Paul left his wife and kids up in Toronto to come down here. He's not making any more money by doing this. And, if it didn't work out here, it likely would have not helped his career at all. It probably would have damaged it."

Fortunately for all concerned, it has, to use Rutherford's words, "worked out" to date, probably far better than many expected.

Since replacing Peter Laviolette behind the Canes bench on Dec. 3, Maurice has led Carolina to a 31-17-5 record, a winning percentage of .632. More importantly, the Canes are peaking at the right time. A 4-2 triumph over the visiting New York Rangers Thursday was Carolina's team-record 10th consecutive home victory and stretched the club's winning streak to seven, giving them a legitimate shot at home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Among the reasons the Canes are one of the hottest teams in the league is goalie Cam Ward. Showing the form that won him the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, the Saskatoon native has started 25 consecutive games, a run in which he has gone an impressive 17-6-2.

Bringing back forward Erik Cole has been another key. Having looked lost in Edmonton at times, Cole seems to be invigorated after being acquired from the Oilers last month.

Playing on a line with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu, Cole has 10 points in 13 games since rejoining the Canes.

"This is where his home is," Rutherford said. "This is where he started his career and this is where he should finish his career."

As for a potential contract extension for Maurice, Rutherford said the issue will be addressed after the season.

"I don't (negotiate) during the season with players, so it wouldn't be fair to them if I did it with the coach," he said.

Head games

Former Philadelphia Flyers captain Keith Primeau, whose career was cut short by a series of concussions, is joining more than 100 professional, college and high school athletes by committing to donate his brain upon death to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine.

Primeau is urging all current and retired NHLers to follow suit in order to help solve the concussion crisis going on in hockey.

Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Noah Welch and retired NHLers Steve Heinze and Ryan VandenBussche already have made a similar commitment.

"We owe it to the kids playing sports," Primeau said, referring to the need for research to combat the rash of head traumas suffered by athletes.

Welcome Matt

Highly-coveted Boston University defenceman Matt Gilroy has cut off talks with NHL teams until the conclusion of next week's Frozen Four, the NCAA hockey championship.

That won't stop dozens of scouts from being on hand to watch his every move at the Verizon Center in Washington.

Gilroy becomes a free agent once B.U.'s season has ended and at least 20 NHL teams are interested in signing him. This week he was named one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker award, which goes to the top player in U.S. college hockey.

One of those, the Toronto Maple Leafs, this week snapped up a couple of notable college free agents, forwards Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak. The Leafs are considered to be among the frontrunners for Gilroy as well with general manager Brian Burke, who has spent significant time in Boston the past few months visiting family, said to be involved in the recruiting.

Asked if all the hype surrounding Gilroy was legit, an executive with an Eastern Conference team yesterday replied: "Sure, the kid's (a star) in college. But don't forget that he's 25 years old. At that age, you had better be one of the best players in college."

Al's well

The logo on the back of Phoenix Coyotes goalie Al Montoya's helmet features a moon with a Cuban cigar in its mouth. A fitting symbol for the first Cuban-American to play in the NHL.

In one of the best feel-good stories of the season, Montoya has allowed just one goal in his first two games, including a shutout over the Colorado Avalanche in his NHL debut.

It has been a long time coming for the young goalie, who was picked sixth overall by the New York Rangers in the 2004 entry draft.

For the Chicago native, whose parents were raised in Cuba, the heritage issue is a big deal.

"You look past all the other things and, at the end of the day, it means a lot, from where my family's come from, being from Cuba ... it's exciting," Montoya, 24, said.

Cross checks

Pending unrestricted free agent Johan Franzen is getting closer to a new deal with the Red Wings ... In a recent poll by the Buffalo News, 32% of respondents said the players should be blamed for the Sabres' lack of success this season, followed by managing partner Larry Quinn, 29%; GM Darcy Regier, 18%; owner Tom Golisano, 14%; and coach Lindy Ruff, 5%. ... Injured St. Louis Blues forward Paul Kariya (hip) is talking about returning should the team make the playoffs.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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