RALEIGH — The apparent lack of progress with Joni Pitkanens shattered heel is awful news for the Carolina Hurricanes in so many ways. Its hard to pick just one: The minutes he plays; the all-around role the defenseman can fill when at his best; the fact that the needless injury, suffered on a meaningless icing play, has the potential to be career-ending.
Its a frightening set of circumstances for player and team alike.
While Pitkanens long-term prospects remain in question, the short-term prospects of the Hurricanes will unavoidably take a hit. If Thursdays CT scan produces further bad news, the Hurricanes may have no choice but to pursue a replacement, which would mean money that should be spent on a forward could end up being spent on defense while any chance of trading the final year of Pitkanens $4.5 million contract evaporates.
Especially with Jonis situation, we have to keep our eyes on how much cap room we have, Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said Tuesday. Theres a little more priority for a defenseman.
The good news, so to speak, is that a ready replacement for Pitkanen exists in the form of Ron Hainsey, still a free agent at this late date for reasons unexplained. Hainsey is a versatile defenseman capable of soaking up a good chunk of the minutes Pitkanen typically plays. The fact a defenseman of his caliber is still available perhaps because of the active role he played during the lockout for the NHLPA? is a huge break for the Hurricanes, who wouldnt exactly be scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Theres only so much money to go around, though, and until now there wasnt any reason to spend it on defense. Before the grim news regarding Pitkanens recovery, or lack thereof, the Hurricanes looked set on the blue line with the additions of Andrej Sekera and Mike Komisarek, which not only added some needed components Komisareks bulk in particular but took pressure off rookie Ryan Murphy by bumping him down to the seventh spot.
Where the Hurricanes really need help at this point is forward, which is why Radek Dvorak is coming to camp on a tryout basis. They need size, capable penalty killers, fourth-line depth and at least one top-nine role player, just for starters.
The first line may be set, but theres an opening with Jordan Staal and Tuomo Ruutu on the second line and questions about where Jeff Skinner and rookie Elias Lindholm would fit best. At the moment, there will be a mad scramble for jobs between players in the system like Zac Dalpe and tryouts like Dvorak, but the situation really calls out for an experienced winger like coach Kirk Mullers former teammate Brendan Morrow or a veteran third-line center. Or both. Pitkanens injury may use up the checkbook and leave those questions unanswered.
For now, the Hurricanes will await news of Pitkanens prognosis. While discussions continue with Morrow and Hainsey, among others, Rutherford said his preference is to extend invitations to unsigned players, not contracts, until he sees how training camp shakes out. The Hurricanes will see where they stand with Murphy and Brett Bellemore, which is the same shaky position they were in before Komisarek arrived.
Until we have an idea how long (Pitkanen) is out, well try to replace him with what weve got, Rutherford said. Were pretty sure hes not going to be starting the season.
If Thursdays news isnt good, theres no reason to wait. The Hurricanes should snap up Hainsey before someone else does. Still, at this point, its hard not to worry: Will Pitkanens injury hurt the Hurricanes on defense, at forward, or both?
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947