Hurricanes top defenseman Pitkanen out for season

The Carolina Hurricanes announced on Wednesday that top defenseman Joni Pitkanen would miss the entire season, the result of a broken heel he suffered back on April 2. The move also should sideline Pitkanen for the 2014 Olympics where he likely would have been a key player for his native Finland.

“It’s unfortunate, Joni is a good player who was able to play a lot of minutes for us and he will be missed,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford told reporters in Raleigh, as reported by the News and Observer. “We’ll now have to deal with it and move forward. We’ll explore all options and decide on how we’ll proceed.” 

Dating from last April, the injury was expected to keep Pitkanen out 10-12 weeks. However, with training camp set to begin, he underwent an MRI in recent days. The team made the announcement on Wednesday, saying specifically that it is a broken left calcaneus bone. 

In 22 games last season, Pitkanen, who will be 30 on Sept. 19, averaged 22:49 in time on ice per game, second on the team.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound defenseman has 57 goals and 225 assists in 535 career games. 

The Hurricanes have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009 and the loss of Pitkanen will make the task that much harder. The Canes have made some big-money acquisitions of late in order to end that playoff drought. Last season, they signed wing Alex Semin to a five-year, $35-million contract extension. They also traded for center Jordan Staal a year ago and signed him to a 10-year, $60-million extension. 

In the offseason, the Canes took a gamble on defenseman Mike Komisarek, who had strong seasons in Montreal before falling on hard times after signing a lucrative free-agent contract in Toronto. Komisarek now could be forced into a more prominent role. Rookie Ryan Murphy, a former first-round pick, also figures prominently in Carolina’s plans but he is unlikely to fill the role vacated by the veteran Pitkanen. 

One option for Carolina is the savings they will get by putting Pitkanen, who is in the final year of a deal that is scheduled to pay him $4.5 million, on the long-term injured reserve list so that they could potentially acquire another defenseman with the salary they would have spent on him.

However, finding another team to deal such a defenseman is difficult, if not impossible. Possibilities include long-time Montreal and Atlanta/Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey and Maple Leafs’ restricted free agent Cody Franson, who would bring size and offense. 

Owing to NHL realignment, the Canes have been thrust into a more competitive division which includes former Southeast Division rival Washington along with newcomer Columbus and the old Atlantic Division members (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders). That division figures to have a much tougher level of competition than what Carolina formerly faced in the old Southeast.