Bad news about Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen became worse Wednesday when the team announced that the 29-year-old blueliner will miss the 2013-14 season. Pitkanen was injured April 2 on an icing play that resulted in him breaking his left heel (calcaneus bone).
It initially seemed Pitkanen's recovery was going as scheduled. But with training camp looming, word began to circulate last week that Pitkanen was not only not skating but unable to put weight on his left foot. The team administered another CT scan on Pitkanen Thursday, the results of which led to Wednesday's announcement that puts Pitkanen’s future both with the Canes and in professional hockey in serious doubt.
The absence of Pitkanen leaves a huge hole on Carolina’s defense: the Finnish defenseman had averaged at least 22-plus minutes a night since coming to the Hurricanes, including leading the NHL in ice time in 2009-10 when he logged 27:22 in 71 games.
Pitkanen was set to earn $4.5 million this season, the final year of a three-year contract he signed before the 2011-12 season. The Hurricanes will be able to move Pitkanen to the long-term injury list, freeing up that cap space and allowing them to search for a replacement. Among those still available on the free agent market are defensemen Tom Gilbert and Ron Hainsey. Gilbert spent last season with Minnesota after being dealt from Edmonton in 2012, while Hainsey just finished up five seasons with the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization.
Hainsey and the Hurricanes reportedly discussed a contract this summer, however nothing ever came of the negotiations. Now, with Pitkanen sidelined and Hainsey’s minute-munching abilities (21-plus minutes in four of five seasons with the Thrashers/Jets) available, the sides could revisit those negotiations.
There are also several teams with a surplus of defensemen — Toronto comes to mind — that Carolina could strike up trade discussions with. For now, rookies Ryan Murphy and Brett Bellemore — who both saw limited time with the Hurricanes last season — are the top candidates to fill the void on the Carolina defense.
Here is the release from the Hurricanes announcing Pitkanen’s loss for the year.
JONI PITKANEN TO MISS 2013-14 SEASON
Defenseman suffered a major heel injury on April 2
RALEIGH, NC – Jim Rutherford, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that defenseman Joni Pitkanen will miss the entire 2013-14 season.
Pitkanen, 29, suffered a broken left calcaneus (heel) bone on April 2 against Washington, and missed the Hurricanes’ final 13 games of the season. The 2013-14 season would have been his sixth with Carolina and 10th in the NHL. The Oulu, Finland, native has scored 57 goals and earned 225 assists in 535 career NHL regular-season games with Philadelphia, Edmonton and Carolina, since beginning his NHL career in 2003-04. Since the team’s relocation in 1997, Pitkanen (6’3", 210 lbs.) ranks third among defensemen in assists (116) and points (140), tied for fourth among club defensemen in goals (240) and eighth among team blueliners in games played (266).