JONI PITKANEN | Big defenseman comes to blue-line rescue
Breaking down the Hurricanes’ moves on Day 1 of the 2008 free agency period…
Trade: ERIK COLE to Edmonton in exchange for JONI PITKANEN
What Edmonton gets: gritty winger with a scoring touch who scored 30, 29 and 22 goals in the last three seasons, despite struggles with injuries.
What Hurricanes get: puck-moving defenseman who was a restricted free agent
The skinny: Pitkanen, at 24, is five years younger than Cole and makes just less than two-thirds of Cole’s $4 million salary. Cole, after six seasons in Carolina, was extremely popular and will forever be remembered for his last-minute game-tying goal in the “Miracle at Molson” during the 2002 Stanley Cup run and the neck injury suffered in 2006 that nearly ended his career. But with a $4 million salary, a year left before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, a history of injuries and gaps in Carolina’s defense, this is a move the Hurricanes had to make. It gives the Hurricanes an extra $1.6 million to find more depth and will give young forwards in the system a chance to move up and prove themselves. Cole will be missed, but the defense gets a key component and, with Pitkanen, a player who develop into a cornerstone blue liner.
Signing: ANTON BABCHUK inks one-year contract
The big (6-foot-5) Russian appeared on his way out of the organization two seasons ago when the defenseman refused to report to the minors after being sent down from the big club. He was suspended and ended up playing last season in Russia – where he was fifth in scoring among defensemen in that country’s super league.
What they’re saying: “We wanted him to go to the minors to work on his development. He chose not to do that so we did kind of go in different directions,” Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said today. “I was disappointed in him and his teammates were. That was something he should have done. We didn’t totally forget about him because he is a young guy. But when you look at what it costs to get young defensemen from other teams, we’re saying, ‘Why not give this guy another chance?’ He is two years older and maybe this guy is going to step up and do what we think he can do at a very young age. So, we’ve made up.”
The skinny: an older, wiser Babchuk is probably ready for full-time duty in the NHL.
Signings: RYAN BAYDA, WADE BROOKBANK and TIM CONBOY ink contracts. Each was a free agent (Bayda and Brookbank were unrestricted, Conboy was restricted) as well as a late-season success stories for the Hurricanes last season.
The skinny on Bayda: Insurance signing for depth. Bayda is a fourth-liner who’s played parts of four seasons with Canes gets another go-round. At 27, this may be his last chance to find a home in the NHL.
The skinny on Brookbank: Tough guy who can play forward and defense. Good guy to have around in a pinch, as he demonstrated last season.
The skinny on Conboy: Very unhappy to have been sent down to Albany late in the season, it appeared that Conboy might be headed elsewhere. Will drop the gloves with anyone and gives the team depth on defense and leadership if he’s in Albany.
No word as yet from my buddy Martin Gelinas, who was hoping to re-sign with Nashville but may be headed elsewhere for what he has said will be his last NHL season. Serge Payer, whom I’ve written about here before as well, has signed a two-year contract to play in the German Elite league. He leaves for Europe on August 4.
For more moves, see www.hockeybuzz.com.