The first of the signings was the surprise. Jim Rutherford went way off the rumor charts by signing former Penguin Josef Melichar. The rumors about him were that he was going to return to the Pens after spending last season in Czech and Swedish leagues. He spent his entire six-year NHL career in Pittsburgh, where he tallied 40 (7/33) points in 310 games. The 29-year old Czech was signed to a one-year deal at $1M. When Rutherford flat out said that he was gonna get another defenseman to get bigger and younger, then get rid of one of the existing ones, everyone pretty much assumed he was really saying "Frantisek Kaberle, pack your bags". I'm not sure what the Canes would be able to get for the guy who scored the Cup-winning goal in 2006, but I'm guessing they'll get a prospect and a second round pick.
Frankie has been so frustrating to watch. He can't seem to put two good games back to back. Most nights, he can't even put two good shifts back to back. He's been having lingering problems from the multitude of surgeries he's had, and at 34, he's just not getting any younger. I'd say his days are over in Carolina.
The second was the big one. Joni Pitkänen was signed to a three-year $12M deal. The money is a bit more than I was hoping, but the length is more than I was expecting. For the most part, I've been hearing good things about him and his skill set. The question marks are on his health. From a Carolina standpoint, his health can't possibly be dodgier than that of Bret Hedican or Frantisek Kaberle. And he can't possibly be worse defensively than those two. And he definitely will provide more back-end offensive production than those two combined.
Frankie and his $2.2M have got to go. If the Canes can get a depth forward out of it, hooray! Otherwise, shed the salary and stock up on draft picks. I'll always have the fond memory of Frankie scoring the Cup-winner on June 19, 2006 -- just a few feet in front of my face, but this team desperately needed a massive overhaul of the defense. It started with the brilliant Commy/Stillman for Corvo/Eaves trade last winter. These two signings pretty much finish that off. I still think Kaberle is a swell guy, but I also think that both the team and Kaberle would be better served if he was traded.
The few of us who stand behind the team on this Cole/Pitkänen deal have been getting railed by the many who hate it. Make no mistake, I will miss Cole. He will continue to be one of my favorite players; he'll just be wearing a different sweater. I understand and appreciate what he did for this team. I understand it as much or more than the next guy. I'm not saying "Good riddance, jerk!" None of us is saying that. It's business. The Sliding Pokecheck put it quite nicely in her post:
"The Hurricanes had a lot of good forwards and desperately needed to trade for a defenseman. Cole was the only one the team could afford to lose WHO WOULD ALSO get the team something of value in return. Someone had to go and Cole was a valuable trade option. There you go. It's business, folks. Much as you might get attached to certain players and want to keep them around for their entire career, it's not about you - it's about trying to put together a winning team."
Carolina didn't miss the playoffs last season because they weren't scoring enough goals. They had plenty of offense. They narrowly missed the playoffs chiefly because their defense sucked. This will probably be a blog post of its own sometime in the near future. The chief goal this summer was to rehaul the defense even if it meant losing a star player. Feelings have been hurt, but that mission has been accomplished. The defense has been rehauled. Will it pay dividends? I think so, but we'll have to wait and see.
If Pitkänen stinks up the joint, I'll gladly eat crow. For now, I'm totally behind this.
As an aside, the Hurricanes website lists Melichar with the sweater #2. Obviously, that won't be his number. Since the Hurricanes are retiring that number for Glen Wesley, Melichar will be asked to pick something else. Pitkänen is shown with the #25, which will be just fine. I just hope he can be better in that sweater than Bruno St. Jacques and Eric Belanger were.