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The New Defense: Part One

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes

Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford spent most of the offseason retooling the team’s defense.  While the goal of getting younger accomplished itself when Glen Wesley (39) retired and Bret Hedican (38) departed soon after the season ended, adding some mobility and offensive skill was still an issue.

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Rutherford accomplished that by bringing 24-year-old Joni Pitkanen in from Edmonton in exchange for Erik Cole, but the rebuilding process had already begun in that regard. 

Joe Corvo came over last season in a trade with Ottawa and immediately filled a long-open void in the team’s lineup - a skilled puckhandler with offensive capabilities, similar to Pitkanen. 

Through those two trades, the Canes went from having no defensemen with that skill set to having two can cause as much havoc on the offensive end as they prevent in their own. 

To demonstrate that change in dynamic, consider that Corvo’s 21 points as a Cane were just one less than the Hurricanes’ next most prolific scorer from the blue line, Frantisek Kaberle.  Corvo played only 23 games with Carolina.  Kaberle played 80.

“Our transition game will be much stronger,” said Rutherford.  “We’ve always looked for mobile, puck-moving defensemen and power play guys. We’ve had guys that have been OK, but not at the level of Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen.  These are two guys that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to both have 50-point seasons.”

Corvo ended up with a career high 48 points with Ottawa and Carolina last season, so 50 wouldn’t be a stretch at all, especially if he produces like he did after arriving in Raleigh.  That mark is also attainable for Pitkanen, who posted his best offensive season with 46 points with the 2005-06 Philadelphia Flyers.

While such things won’t be made certain until training camp is well underway, Corvo and Pitkanen, along with Matt Cullen (36 assists in 59 games), should cause other teams plenty of trouble while running the point on the power play.

Rutherford also indicated that formerly estranged defenseman Anton Babchuk, back from a year in a Russia and known for his hard shot, could be in that mix as well.

”We’ve got Pitkanen and Corvo ahead of him on the power play, but if he’s playing well there’s no reason he couldn’t be on the second unit and do well there,” said Rutherford.

At any rate, the days of the five-forward power play seem to be over.

We'll be back starting Monday with parts 2 and 3 as well plenty more content to preview the coming season.

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