2002 star has been in low minors

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Carolina is bringing back goalie Arturs Irbe, a hero in the team's run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002 who got much of the blame when the Hurricanes recorded the fewest points in the NHL last season.

Irbe, 37, has spent this season in the low minors with Johnstown after refusing a $1.8 million buyout of his two-year, $5.2 million contract.

Jim Rutherford, the Hurricanes' general manager, told The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer on Tuesday night that he expects Irbe to play within the next week.

"We want to keep all our options open going forward based on the situation we're in now," Rutherford said.

The Hurricanes are 13th in the Eastern Conference, 15 points out of a playoff spot with 24 games remaining.

Irbe will back up starting goalie Kevin Weekes. Rutherford said he planned to meet Wednesday with Jamie Storr, the current backup. Since he joined the Hurricanes in October, Storr is 0-8-2 with a 2.91 goals-against average in 14 appearances.

"How may more times do I have to say it?" Rutherford said when Storr's signing was announced. "I think Archie can still play in this league, but it was time for us to cut ties with him. Certainly it puts another goalie between him and us."

Irbe, a native of Latvia and a former Olympian, was 10-8 in 18 games in 2002 when the Hurricanes made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals. Weekes was tapped as the starter the following season, and Irbe split his time between Lowell of the American Hockey League, the Hurricane's top minor-league affiliate, and Carolina.

He had a 7-24-2 record in 34 NHL games last season and a 3.18 goals-against average.

Irbe was 9-3-1 this season and giving up an average of 1.98 goals a game with Johnstown of the East Coast Hockey League. His .931 save percentage ranks fourth in that league this season.

He is the Carolina franchise leader in games played by a goalie (299), wins (125) and shutouts (20).