Canes' GM Rutherford insists season is not over

calexander@newsobserver.comApril 3, 2013 

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    Too late?

    The Hurricanes led the Southeast Division by three points on March 14 but have added just three points since, going 1-8-1 in their past 10 games. They are four points behind Winnipeg.

    Place;Team;Points;Games left

    1.;Winnipeg;38;10

    2.;Washington;36;12

    3.;Carolina;34;13

    Key number

    37-17

    Margin Canes have been outscored during 1-8-1 stretch

— The NHL trade deadline came and went Wednesday, and the day proved to be a mostly quiet one for the Carolina Hurricanes.

And a glum one.

The Hurricanes announced Wednesday morning that defenseman Joni Pitkanen would be sidelined 10 to 12 weeks after suffering a broken left heel bone in Tuesday’s game against the Washington Capitals. That takes another key player out of the lineup as the Canes attempt to end a 1-8-1 skid and remain in contention in the NHL’s Southeast Division.

The Canes made one trade Wednesday, sending forward Jussi Jokinen to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a conditional 2013 draft pick. Carolina will receive a sixth- or seventh-round pick depending on how many games Jokinen plays for the Pens.

Jokinen was dealt to the Canes by Tampa Bay in February 2009 and helped Carolina reach the 2009 Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins. A popular player, the Finn scored some of the most memorable playoff goals in franchise history, including a last-second score that beat New Jersey and goaltender Martin Brodeur.

The Hurricanes acquired defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron in a trade Tuesday with the Lightning. That would be their only addition.

Pitkanen was injured in the second period when he raced down the ice to touch the puck and force an icing call against the Caps. The Hurricanes said he broke the calcaneus bone in his left foot as he fell and slammed into the boards.

The Canes (16-17-2) are 11th in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, trailing divisional leader Winnipeg by four points. Injuries to such key players as goaltender Cam Ward, defenseman Justin Faulk and now Pitkanen leave the Canes in jeopardy of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

"It couldn’t have come at a worse time," general manager Jim Rutherford said of the team’s recent slide. "We spent more money on our team this year. I believe we had a team in place that was a very good team.

"But when I talk about it coming at a worse time, this is a year we have decided to raise ticket prices and do different things. That doesn’t sit right with the paying customer, when they watch a team that was so good in the first half (of the season) and a team that wasn’t good in the second half.”

Rutherford made a number of calls Wednesday, but said there were no deals that made sense and not many impact players available. He said the injury to Pitkanen did not change his plans or scuttle any potential deals.

The Jokinen trade was made to move salary – Jokinen has one year left on a contract that has a $3 million salary cap hit next season. The Hurricanes retained a portion of Jokinen’s salary but Rutherford did not disclose the amount.

"It wasn’t about him or him as a player," Rutherford said of the trade. "It was about what we’re doing in going forward, payroll-wise."

The Hurricanes placed Jokinen on NHL waivers last week but there were no takers.

In another personnel move Wednesday, the Canes reassigned defenseman Brett Bellemore to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. Bellemore played six games for the Canes in his first NHL recall.

Carolina also signed forward Brock McGinn, a second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, to a three-year, entry-level contract. McGinn, 19, was immediately assigned to the Checkers.

McGinn scored 28 goals and had 26 assists in 68 games this season with Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.

The Hurricanes face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday at PNC Arena and have 13 games remaining in the regular season. But Rutherford’s said he is "about as frustrated as you can get" about the way the Canes’ season has unraveled.

"We’re not sitting here saying it’s over," he said. "But the most frustrating thing is that in the first part of the season we showed what kind of team we had ... and we played very well. A whole lot of things happened that put this team in the position that we’ve gone on a long losing streak and it came at the worse time possible."

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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