Canes trade Vasicek to Predators for Walker, sign Willis

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes acquired forward Scott Walker from Nashville in exchange for center Josef Vasicek on Tuesday, giving the Stanley Cup champions a veteran scoring threat to help replace departed free agent Matt Cullen.

The Hurricanes also brought back former draft pick Shane Willis, signing the right winger to a one-year contract.

Walker, 33, was the Predators' career scoring leader with 247 points and was the last player on the team who played on opening night for the expansion franchise in 1998. Former captain Greg Johnson was allowed to leave in free agency.

Carolina president and general manager Jim Rutherford said the addition of Walker makes the Hurricanes a faster, more versatile team because he can play right wing, allowing newcomer Trevor Letowski to shift to center.

"We've had [Vasicek] a long time. He's been a good player for us, but when you have the chance to get a guy like Scotty Walker ... we feel we upgraded our team because he can do so many things," Rutherford said.

The deal makes the Hurricanes a little older -- Vasicek is 25 -- but will leave them in virtually the same financial position after the season. Walker is in the final year of a three-year contract that will pay him $1.5 million, and Vasicek was entering the final season of a two-year deal that will pay him $1.3 million.

Rutherford said Walker could be a 30-goal scorer who helps replace the speed lost when Cullen signed a four-year, $11.2 million deal with the New York Rangers. Cullen had 25 goals in the regular season and two assists against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The deal ends Vasicek's stay with the franchise that drafted him eight years ago. The 6-foot-5, 214-pound forward was a key part of the team's surprising run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 and led the team with 19 goals and 45 points in 2003-04, but a knee injury limited him to nine points and 23 regular-season games this year.

Walker, a 5-10, 196-pound right wing, was limited to 16 points in 33 games this season with a strained groin that needed surgery, but Rutherford said the player was "totally healthy" and that a change of scenery could benefit both players.

Trade talks with the Predators heated up after the Hurricanes' flurry of free-agent signings, he said.

"Once we got everybody signed, we took a look to see where we could make our team better," Rutherford said.

In another deal, the Hurricanes signed Willis to a deal that will pay him $450,000 if he makes the team and $115,000 if he is sent to the team's AHL affiliate in Albany, N.Y. The contract also contains $150,000 in guaranteed money for Willis, who played in Europe last season.

The deal allows Willis to return to the team that drafted him in 1997 and traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2002. He has 31 goals and 43 assists in 174 career games with Carolina and Tampa Bay.