The Hurricanes received some terrible, but unsurprising, news yesterday that defenseman Joni Pitkanen could miss the start of the year, as he has not fully recovered from a heel injury he sustained late last season. This isn't a shocker considering how gruesome the injury looked, but not having him in the lineup is a huge blow to the Hurricanes. Pitkanen typically plays more minutes per game than any other defender, but that alone isn't why he will be missed.
A month ago, I talked about how Pitkanen was the only true "puck-mover" on the Hurricanes blue-line and how superior he was at driving the play forward compared to the rest of the defense corps. He adds another dimension to the Hurricanes breakout game and forecheck, which is going to be tough to replace because no other defenseman on the team really has that ability. Long-term, Ryan Murphy should be the guy that slides into Pitkanen's role but right now, the Canes don't really have a puck-mover who is as skilled as him.
Justin Faulk has offensive skill and can move the puck, but he has developed more as a shutdown defenseman, Andrej Sekera also has a decent skillset, but it obviously isn't as high as Pitkanen's while players like Tim Gleason, Jay Harrison, Mike Komisarek and Brett Bellemore are all more of stay-at-home players. So, unless Murphy is ready to make hte leap to the NHL next year, then the Hurricanes are going to need to add another blue-liner between now and October to help make up for what they're losing in Pitkanen.
There are a few things getting in the way of that, though. The first of which relates to cap space and whether or not the Canes have enough room to add another player. Right now, they have a little under $5 mil. in cap space remaining and that number will go up if Pitkanen were to go on Long Term Injured Reserve. Jim Rutherford has mentioned that he wants to add a defenseman but has to move one first, and I think this is why. Pitkanen going on LTIR would give him a little more wiggle room under the salary cap to make a move.
The question is whether or not there is anyone out there who can adequately take over Pitkanen's minutes. It is September after all. The only players left are those who other teams didn't want and there's probably a reason why they haven't been getting many offers. There isn't going to be a perfect replacement for him, but if you glance at the free agent market, there are two potential top-four defensemen who stand out. Those players being Tom Gilbert and Ron Hainsey.
Both are relatively young (i.e. under 35), are capable of playing a top-four role and fill an immediate need on the Hurricanes defense corps. Who is the better fit for the team, though? Most Carolina fans seem to want Hainsey because he has a reputation as a shot-blocking, crease-clearing defenseman that the team has always "needed," but I am more partial to Gilbert. With Pitkanen out, the team needs someone who can quarterback the power play and provide some offense from the blue-line. Gilbert can do that and at 30 years old, he isn't too far removed from his prime years.
I've watched and read about Gilbert a lot over the last few years, probably because I read Copper & Blue on a daily basis, and I honestly think he would be a perfect fit for Carolina. This is a guy who can lead breakouts on his own, get the puck moving in the right direction and elevate the performance of his teammates. He can also play on both special teams units and was a solid contributor to the Oilers power play in recent seasons. Basically, Gilbert can do almost everything Pitkanen did and would be a good replacement for him while he is out, especially if he is available at a low price.
What about Hainsey, though? Admittedly, I don't know a ton about him other than he is more of a defensive-defenseman and I think the team has enough of those. That doesn't mean he wouldn't be a good addition, though. Much like it's wrong to assume that Gilbert is "bad defensively" because he is a puck mover, it's unfair for me to assume that Hainsey is an anchor because he is an older defensive defenseman. So, after the jump, we will look at what Hainsey brings to the table and how he compares to Gilbert.no comments