RALEIGH, N.C. -- After finishing last season in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes anticipated an uphill climb to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It became a more difficult task earlier this week when the team announced defenseman Joni Pitkanen is out for the entire upcoming season.
So the Hurricanes struck quickly Thursday, signing free agent defenseman Ron Hainsey to a one-year, $2 million contract. Hainsey finished last season with no goals and 13 assists for the Winnipeg Jets.
"Hainsey was a guy we liked coming into free agency and we wanted him to come here," Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We were trying to make it work, so we are thankful for him being patient."
For the Hurricanes, the issue was freeing a roster spot. After acquiring Andrej Sekera in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres and signing free agent Mike Komisarek, Carolina had hoped to make a trade that would allow them to sign Hainsey, but nothing panned out. The Pitkanen injury provided that roster spot.
"We just weren't in a position to do that," Rutherford said. "Essentially, we ended up trading a guy to injury."
Though Hainsey is not likely to replace Pitkanen's offensive savvy, each player averaged more than 22 minutes per game last season. Now with three veteran newcomers on the blue line, Carolina will have more flexibility on a nightly basis.
"He's a veteran who has logged between 20 and 22 minutes a night over his career, so he's capable of playing more than 20," Rutherford said of Hainsey. "We're going to be better balanced defensively, so we don't have to have the same two guys logging the most minutes each game. At the same time, it doesn't exclude our young guys like [Brett] Bellemore and [Ryan] Murphy. It just relieves some of the pressure that we were able to get a veteran guy."