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'Canes sign Melichar, give Pitkanen $12M contract

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -The Carolina Hurricanes found the physical defenseman they've been looking for, while also signing another addition to the team's blue line.

The Hurricanes signed former Pittsburgh defenseman Josef Melichar on Wednesday to a one-year contract worth $1 million. They also gave restricted free agent Joni Pitkanen a three-year deal worth $12 million a day after trading with Edmonton for the offensive-minded defenseman.

Melichar, 29, spent last season with Linkoping of the Swedish Elite League, finishing with 74 penalty minutes in 50 regular-season games and a team-leading 39 more minutes in the penalty box in 16 playoff games. General manager Jim Rutherford said Melichar is "a big, strong and experienced defensive defenseman who will be a shut-down player."

Melichar played in 310 games with Pittsburgh from 2000-07. The Penguins' third-round pick in 1997 had his best offensive season in 2005-06, when he had three goals and 12 assists.

Melichar's signing came on the second day of the NHL's free-agency period and 24 hours after the Hurricanes continued to retool their blue line by trading for Pitkanen in a deal that sent fan-favorite forward Erik Cole to the Oilers.

Pitkanen - who made $2.4 million with the Oilers last season - will make $3.5 million this season, $4 million in 2009-10 and $4.5 million in 2010-11. The Hurricanes will wind up saving $500,000 this season by trading Cole, who will make $4 million in the final year of his contract.

In announcing the trade, Rutherford said he expected to sign another physical defender - and that turned out to be Melichar.

Carolina's top offseason priority has become its defense after the departure of two key veterans: Glen Wesley retired, and unrestricted free agent Bret Hedican told the team he would not return.

Spotty play on defense also has been one of the reasons the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs in each of the two seasons that followed their Stanley Cup championship in 2006.

The Hurricanes have seven defensemen signed for next season. Another defenseman, Dennis Seidenberg, is a restricted free agent, meaning Carolina may match any offer sheet he receives.

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