RALEIGH The Carolina Hurricanes moved quickly to fill the void left by injured defenseman Joni Pitkanen.
A day after ruling Pitkanen out for the season, the Canes signed free-agent defenseman Ron Hainsey on Thursday to a one-year, $2 million contract.
Hainsey, 32, has played the past two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets after three seasons in Atlanta with the Thrashers before the team’s relocation to Canada. He’s no stranger to the Canes after many matchups in the now-defunct Southeast Division.
“He’s an experienced NHL player who can play good minutes for us, 20 to 22 a game,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He also a very good shot blocker and penalty killer. This is a very good signing for us.”
Hainsey’s signing was announced soon after the Hurricanes put in their first on-ice practices of preseason training camp at PNC Arena. The workouts were intense, with a number of one-on-one and two-on-two battles.
“It was a good pace, a good practice, and hopefully it keeps getting amped up every day,” Canes captain Eric Staal said.
Pitkanen suffered a broken heel bone last season and has not recovered. The Finn annually was one of the NHL leaders in minutes played per game.
Rutherford said the Canes were interested in signing Hainsey before learning Pitkanen would be unable to play. There had been ongoing discussions with Hainsey and his agent.
“Now, with Joni’s situation, which we weren’t expecting, we’re able to fill that gap with someone who has a lot of experience,” Rutherford said. “I’m glad he was patient and he waited.”
Hainsey was very active with the NHL Players Association in the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, which was approved in January. An unrestricted free agent, he remained unsigned after free agency began July 5 and speculation mounted that his involvement in the CBA process may have soured the interest of some general managers in the league.
“I really don’t know,” Hainsey said Thursday. “No one outwardly said that. Of course, no one is going to tell you that.
“I don’t know if that was the case or not. But it’s something we all went through, it’s in the past and I’m excited about this opportunity.”
Hainsey said the Hurricanes were his “first choice all along.” He said with Cam Ward in net, the strength at center and the talent on hand the Canes have the “pieces to do something special.”
Hainsey signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the then-Thrashers in July 2008. He had a $4.5 million salary-cap hit but drew a $3 million salary last season, when he played 47 games, led the Jets in blocked shots (123) and was second among team defensemen in assists (13).
Hainsey was a first-round pick of the Montreal in 2000 and played parts of two seasons with the Canadiens before being claimed off waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets in November 2005. The Bolton, Conn. native was with the Blue Jackets for three seasons before signing with Atlanta.
Rutherford said said the team might carry seven or eight defensemen on the roster early in the season, fueling the competition on the back end in camp.
“It will be a matter of who plays well,” Rutherford said. “We feel like we have depth on defense, giving (coach Kirk Muller) more options.”
Rutherford said the Canes would keep an “open mind” on adding another player during training camp, whether by a signing or trade. He said he liked the team’s collection of forwards, saying, “We feel we can score enough goals.”
Forward Nathan Gerbe, another free-agent addition, was not at practice Thursday. Muller said Gerbe will miss a couple of days because of personal reasons.
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