Hurricanes send Cole to Oilers for Pitkanen
By Joedy McCreary
RALEIGH ó The Carolina Hurricanesí quest to build a younger, more physical defense wound up costing them one of their most popular ó and productive ó players.
Carolina acquired Joni Pitkanen from the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday in exchange for forward Erik Cole in a move that gives the Hurricanes the young, offensive-minded defenseman theyíve long coveted.
To get him, they had to part with their top-line right wing whose 129 career goals rank third in team history.
iWeíve wrestled with this one for a while now, but in order to get what your needs are, you have to give something up,î Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said. iUnfortunately, in this case, it was Erik Cole.î
Both teams made a series of moves on the first day of free agency, but none was more significant than the Cole-for-Pitkanen deal.
The 29-year-old Cole, a third-round pick by Carolina in 1998, had 22 goals and 29 assists in his seventh season with the Hurricanes and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup two years ago. In the process, he emerged as a fan favorite after he returned from a broken neck to skate against the Oilers in Game 6 of the Cup finals.
But he was deemed expendable because he is entering the final year of a contract that pays him $4 million per season.
iI donít believe that there (were) any welcoming committees there for me during the Cup finals, but Iím excited,î Cole said during a teleconference with Edmonton reporters. iObviously, itís always tough to leave friends and be traded from friends and see friends go, but thatís the nature of the business, and Iím ready for a fresh start.î
The 24-year-old Pitkanen had eight goals and 18 assists in his only season with Edmonton, ranking second among the teamís defensemen in scoring after he was picked up in a trade last summer with the Flyers ó who selected him with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 draft. He is a restricted free agent who made $2.4 million in 2007-08, and Rutherford said preliminary negotiations are under way.
The Hurricanes expect to pair him with Tim Gleason to form the teamís top defensive tandem.
iOver the last year, weíve watched him a lot closer, knowing that there may be the possibility of a trade,î Rutherford said. iPeople have different opinions of him, maybe that heís underachieved at times, but when youíre picked in the top four or five in the NHL draft, you (face) very high expectations. And aside from the high expectations, Iím not sure that heís underachieved a lot.î
Carolina hopes forward Tuomo Ruutu ó one of Pitkanenís closest friends and a fellow native of Finland ó will slide into Coleís spot on the No. 1 line alongside the face of the franchise, Eric Staal, and veteran left wing Ray Whitney.
The Hurricanes entered the day with 10 of their top 12 forwards under contract for 2008-09, and there may be yet another move ahead for them. Rutherford said he expects to add a idefensive defensemanî to further bolster the blue line.
The trade was part of a busy day for both teams. The Oilers also acquired center Gilbert Brule from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for forward Raffi Torres.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes agreed to a deal that will bring back defenseman Anton Babchuk for one year at $1 million. They also reached deals with three of their own free agents: forwards Ryan Bayda and Wade Brookbank, and defenseman Tim Conboy.