Hurricanes reward Cole with 3-year, $12 million deal

Updated: July 5, 2006, 6:19 PM ET
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes re-signed left winger Erik Cole on Wednesday to a three-year, $12 million contract, following an injury-shortened regular season in which he set career-highs in scoring.

Left Wing
Carolina Hurricanes

60 30 29 59 19 54

Cole had 30 goals, 29 assists and 59 points despite missing the final 22 regular-season games with a fractured vertebra in his neck. The 27-year-old forward returned to play Games 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, helping the Hurricanes win their first NHL title.

"I had the feeling that maybe I was cut short of some pretty special things this year," Cole said. "I'm really hoping to have that opportunity again."

The native of Oswego, N.Y., led Carolina with eight game-winning goals during the regular season.

"Erik has developed into a dominant power forward," team president and general manager Jim Rutherford said. "His size, speed and skill make him the ideal player for today's NHL, and he is one of the cornerstones of our team going forward."

Cole was tied for second on the team in scoring when he was injured in a game against Pittsburgh on March 4. He scored two goals in that game -- his second consecutive two-goal game -- before he was rammed into the boards from behind by Brooks Orpik in the third period.

In May, team officials said Cole would not return to play until next fall. He joined the team at practice during the playoffs but was not cleared for contact, and coach Peter Laviolette said again as late as Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals against Edmonton that Cole would not play again this year.

But after center Doug Weight suffered a shoulder injury during Game 5, Laviolette changed his mind and a doctor's examination showed that Cole was ready.

"I still feel I have a lot left to prove, with having the injury and not being able to participate," Cole said Wednesday. "I'm going to have the brightest fire under me when I do come back to [training] camp."

Cole said he was determined to return to the Hurricanes next year, even without such a generous contract. Cole has spent four seasons in the NHL, all with Carolina.

"I had every intention of wanting to be here, even if I had to sign a one-year deal here and come back and sign a multiyear deal" in the spring, he said. "My wife and I are just thrilled that we're going to stay here and be part of not just this organization but this community."

He said he is eager to rejoin team captain Rod Brind'Amour, leading scorer Eric Staal and others from this year's Stanley Cup-winning team who have recently signed multiyear contracts or who have time left on existing deals.

"There's still huge potential for our team to continue to get better," Cole said. "There's more that we can do. You don't want to dwell on past success. You want to try and achieve more."

Following NHL tradition, members of the organization have been taking turns spending a day with the Cup; the most recent was Laviolette, who carried it in Tuesday's Independence Day parade in his hometown of Franklin, Mass.

Cole, who played for Laviolette on the 2006 U.S. Olympic team in Turin, Italy, said he has no idea when he'll get his turn with the trophy, and until he has a date, won't say what he plans to do with it.

"It's a logistical nightmare because you never know when you're going to get it," he said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press