When the Carolina Hurricanes announced Wednesday that Joni Pitkanen would miss the 2013-14 season while he continues to recover from a broken heel bone, many wondered how the team would ease the loss of a veteran defenseman who regularly logged 22 minutes a game.
The Canes answered that question Thursday, signing Ron Hainsey to a one-year, $2 million contract.
“I’m very excited,” Hainsey said in a phone interview. “We’ve been talking since July 5, and this was my number one choice that I’d hoped would work out.”
Narrowing down his ideal targets, Hainsey said his number one priority was to find a team that he felt had a chance to win. The Canes fit that mold.
“You look at this team, and the players are certainly in place for us to do that,” he said.
In Hainsey, the Canes get a reliable, 32-year-old blue-liner who is a veteran of 10 seasons in the NHL. Hainsey has recorded 192 points (34g, 158a) in 591 games and has averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time per game in five of his last seven seasons.
A member of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise for the last five years, Hainsey has led his team in blocked shots in three of the last four seasons (ranked second in the other). Over that stretch, he has averaged over 144 blocked shots in a season, and, at well over 2.5 blocked shots per game in 2012-13, he was on pace to record over 214 blocks in an 82-game campaign.
“A lot of that comes off the penalty kill,” he said. “You’re going to block shots five-on-five, too, but my role on the penalty kill increased over the last three years.”
The Canes also get an old fan of the Hartford Whalers, as Hainsey grew up in Bolton, Connecticut, a small town due east of Hartford.
“My family had season tickets growing up, so I went to a ton of games,” he said.
American-born defensemen now account for two-thirds of the Canes’ expected opening night top six, as Hainsey joins Tim Gleason, Justin Faulk and Mike Komisarek, two of whom are somewhat familiar faces.
Hainsey said he and Komisarek played for the same teams a few times growing up in the Northeast; the two were also Montreal’s top draft picks in 2000 and 2001, as Hainsey was selected 13th overall in 2000 and Komisarek seventh the following year. Hainsey has skated with Gleason in international competition, including the World Junior Championship in the early 2000’s and also got to know Kevin Westgarth “quite a bit” during last year’s work stoppage, as both played a hands-on role with the Players Association.
Not to mention, he’s regularly faced the Hurricanes playing in the now-defunct Southeast Division.
“Playing against these guys six times a year for five years, you get to know some guys on the ice, too,” he said.
Now, Hainsey joins the Hurricanes. Making the southbound trek from Connecticut to Raleigh on Friday, he said he’ll skate with the team Saturday.
“[I’m looking forward to] just getting out there, getting together with my new teammates and getting ready for the season,” he said. “I think there’s a lot to be excited about with this group.”
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