DeCock

Can Canes afford Pitkanen?

Staff WriterOctober 13, 2011 

— You take the good with the bad with Joni Pitkanen. His talent tantalizes, which is why he was drafted fourth overall and has been traded for significant returns twice since. His inconsistency also frustrates, which is why he has been traded twice since.

Given the Carolina Hurricanes' financial situation, along with their sudden surfeit of defensemen, it's fair to wonder whether Pitkanen is a luxury the Hurricanes cannot afford.

He showed Wednesday, in a win over the defending Stanley Cup champions, just what he has to offer when he's at his best. Pitkanen's opening goal - along with a 5-for-5 performance on the penalty kill -- helped the Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins, not only their first of the season but a sorely needed one at that.

It was a scoreless game in the second period when Pitkanen got the puck at the right circle with the Hurricanes on the power play. There wasn't much movement in front of him, with Eric Staal set up on the doorstep, and Pitkanen played with the puck waiting for an opening.

The Bruins never pressured him, and he picked his spot - whistling a shot through Staal's screen and past Tim Thomas.

Fans can have short memories, and it wasn't much later that Pitkanen had the puck on the other side of the ice on another power play, doing pretty much the same wait-and-see maneuver, and the fans were just as irritated, with no goal to soothe them.

That's all part of the Pitkanen package, and Hurricanes fans are getting used to it just as fans in Philadelphia and Edmonton did. There were some who didn't even want him back when his contract came up this summer, but the Hurricanes re-signed him to a three-year, $13.5 million contract at a time when their defense looked thin indeed.

Would the Hurricanes have re-signed Pitkanen in July if they had known Tomas Kaberle would become available at the same price later that month? Would they have re-signed Pitkanen if they knew Justin Faulk was this ready to play in the NHL? Would they have re-signed him if they knew Ryan Murphy would earn a chance to stick around, even if he hasn't played yet?

Maybe, maybe not.

Given what they did know, re-signing Pitkanen was a no-brainer. Potential free-agent defensemen were signing for exorbitant sums elsewhere, and the market was moving out of the Hurricanes' price range at enormous speed. Pitkanen was willing to stay and the Hurricanes needed him.

So Pitkanen's deal made sense at the time, but with Kaberle and Faulk in the fold, and the Hurricanes carrying nine defensemen, that $4.5 million they're paying Pitkanen this season has started to look less like a necessity and more like a luxury -- particularly with that increasingly evident need for another top-six forward.

Pitkanen showed why he's no luxury Wednesday. In the final minute, with the Boston net empty, Pitkanen was on the ice, clearing away a rebound in the crease as Zdeno Chara threatened the net. He has gotten off to a good start to the season, playing solid defense without the turnovers and brain cramps that have too often crept into his game, and he brought the offense the Hurricanes needed when they needed it.

You take the good with the bad, and in a game the Hurricanes desperately needed to win, Pitkanen brought his best to the ice.

If he keeps this up, he'll be worth every penny.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947

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