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Canes give Staal, Commodore new deals, sign goalie

The Carolina Hurricanes weren't going to let Eric Staal get
away.

The Stanley Cup champions signed the 21-year-old center to a
three-year, $13.5 million contract Saturday, a deal that will keep
their rising star with the franchise he led to the Stanley Cup.

"There was no thoughts of going anywhere else," Staal said.
"I won a championship there. It's what you strive for every year
and we've got a great group of players, and I want to be there."

The deal, announced within an hour of Staal becoming a
restricted free agent, will pay him $4 million in 2006-07, $4.5
million in 2007-08 and $5 million in 2008-09. It was the biggest of
three signings by the Hurricanes on Saturday, with the team also
re-signing defenseman Mike Commodore and signing free-agent
goaltender John Grahame to two-year deals.

Staal earned a substantial raise after leading the team in
scoring with 100 regular-season points and followed that by leading
all players in the postseason with 28 points. That included a
15-game point streak in the first three rounds of the playoffs, the
longest postseason run in the last dozen years.

All that production came at a bargain cost of $942,400 in
2005-06.

"He's our best player," said Jim Rutherford, Carolina's
president and general manager. "He's got a future ahead of him, so
it's nice to get him signed on a long-term deal."

As a restricted free agent, Staal could have signed with another
team, but the Hurricanes would have had the right to match any
offer and could have received draft-choice compensation if he left.
But Rutherford said the Hurricanes started talking with Staal about
a long-term deal shortly after they beat Edmonton 3-1 in Game 7 of
the Cup finals two weeks ago.

"We made it very clear as soon as we won the Stanley Cup that
we wanted to get something done sooner rather than later and get
something done to make Eric happy," Rutherford said. "I believe
that's what we did."

The Hurricanes selected Staal with the No. 2 pick in the 2003
draft, and he blossomed into one of the league's top players in his
second season. Staal finished with 45 goals and 55 assists in 82
regular-season games, then had nine goals and 19 assists in the
postseason.

It was a quite a step forward from Staal's rookie year, when he
managed 11 goals and 20 assists before spending the lockout season
playing for Carolina's American Hockey League affiliate. He
returned for his second year about 20 pounds heavier, adding some
much-needed muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame to go with a demanding
work ethic and a level of humility not always typical of a player
of his potential.

He excelled in coach Peter Laviolette's fast-paced system, and
took advantage of new NHL rules that sought to eliminate the
defensive clutching and grabbing that bogged down scoring.

Staal had spent the past few days with teammate Cam Ward -- the
Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the
postseason -- and the Cup in New York. He was to fly back to Raleigh
on Saturday, then head to his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, for
a few months of relaxation now that his contract situation is
resolved.

Carolina also moved to shore up its defense with the signings of
Commodore and Grahame. Commodore got a deal that will pay him $1.2
million next year and $1.3 million in 2007-08 after finishing with
a career-high 13 points in 72 games last season.

Grahame signed a deal that will pay him $1.4 million a season as
the backup to Ward. Grahame won 29 games with a 3.06 goals-against
average in 57 games with Tampa Bay last season.

"I hear it's a tremendous locker room and it's something I
wanted to be a part of," Grahame said. "When it's my time to
play, I want to contribute and help the team win. When I'm not,
I'll be there rooting the team on."

His signing assures that free agent Martin Gerber -- who set a
franchise record with 38 regular-season wins before yielding to
Ward in the playoffs -- will play elsewhere.