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2009-10 Canes Country Exit Analysis: Joni Pitkanen

There may not be a more polarizing figure among Hurricanes fans than defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Some see the 26-year-old Finn as the No. 1 defenseman the team has been lacking since coming to Raleigh: a minute-munching, all-situations defender who can shut down top offensive players, contribute on the score sheet and is not yet in his prime. Detractors point to Pitkanen's frequent nagging injuries, occasional defensive lapses and inability to be an elite power play point man as reasons he is not a true No.1.

2009-10 - Joni Pitkanen 71 6 40 46 -11 72 1 0 1 0 161 3.7

Pitkanen was the first second of what has become an ever-growing contingent of Finnish players to join the Hurricanes. Acquired in exchange for current teammate Erik Cole prior to the 2008-09 season, Pitkanen just finished his sixth NHL season in a career that started in 2003-04 with the Flyers.

The Good: Pitkanen has looked more confident and comfortable in Carolina than his other stops in the NHL. That could be because the lights don't shine as bright in Raleigh as Philadelphia or Edmonton, or the presence of countrymen Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu has had a calming influence on the 6-3 blueliner. While his offensive numbers this season aren't eye-popping, they were enough to break a couple Carolina defenseman scoring records. His 40 assists and 46 points were the most by a Canes defenseman since the team moved to Raleigh, and those totals ranked him tied for ninth and 13th, respectively, among all NHL d-men. Pitkanen also flashed some snarl this season, using his size as an intimidation factor — something that was rarely present during his time with the Flyers and Oilers. He's an effortless skater and pinpoint passer, with the latter skill on display numerous times this past season, usually with Jokinen on the receiving end of a blueline-to-blueline pass that led to a scoring opportunity. His ability to use his speed and long reach helped him in the defensive zone, and coach Paul Maurice rarely shied away from using his thoroughbred in any and all situations. He played 71 games, tops among Carolina defenders, and led all NHLers in average ice time with 27:22 a night, nearly a minute more than runner-up — and Norris Trophy favorite — Duncan Keith (26:35), and tied for the team lead in blocked shots with 122. His 18 power play assists were tops on the squad.

The Bad: Pitkanen still has a tendency to take a bad penalty from time to time, whether it's from ill-timed aggression or stick infractions. While he's an elite passer, he is not an top-notch power play quarterback. After scoring five PPGs in each of his first two NHL seasons, he managed just one in 2009-10 and three total since joining Carolina. His early season struggles to produce points contributed to Carolina's dreadful start, and being paired with incoming d-man Aaron Ward not only failed, but there was noticeable friction between the two from the get-go. He was fourth in shots on the team with a career-high 161, but scored just six times for a paltry 3.7 shooting percentage. He led the team in giveaways (62 — compare that to Tim Gleason's 25 in 10 fewer games) and minor penalties (36).

The Money: Pitkanen earned $4 million in the second-year of a three-year, $12 million deal. He is set to make $4.5 million next season and then will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2010-11 campaign.