With the defense already considered one of the worst in the league, Pitkanen’s absence will leave a void on the Canes blueline.
Pitkanen brings a strong offensive and transition game that will need to be replaced. Rutherford has a few options when it comes to replacing the 29-year-old.
The simplest option is to keep Ryan Murphy on the Canes roster and allow him to play on the power-play unit in place of Pitkanen. Muphy’s forte is offense and would at least be able to replace Pitkanen in that area.
However, Murphy has played a total of four games in the NHL and would not be able to log the type of minutes that the Finland native does or compete against the same type of competition.
Murphy is the simplest option, but not the best for keeping the same level of skill on the ice. Keeping Murphy to replace Pitkanen should be a last resort option.
Free Agency Addition
It’s possible the trio could still demand a good amount of money, but the Canes do have nearly $5 million to work with according to CapGeek.
Hainsey and Whitney are known for their offensive games, but also their deficiencies on defense. Hainsey has been a cornerstone on the Thrashers/Jets blue line for years, while Whitney was a healthy scratch with the Oilers last year.
I believe Gilbert is the best option in free agency. He can help on offense, though not as much as Hainsey or Whitney, but is better in his own end.
Either way, any defenseman signed should be on a one-year deal.
A trade is always a possibility, although maybe the toughest to do out of the three options. Teams are still looking to cut salary space and a few defensemen could be available.
The Philadelphia Flyers have a number of defenseman, so Andrej Meszaros could be available, but he is just as injury prone as Pitkanen.
Keith Yandle has been a part of trade rumors for years, but costs a lot and is more of a long-term fix rather than a season fix.
I believe the trade target should be the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Niskanen. The Pens need cap space and are in good shape to trade a defenseman.
Niskanen is underrated and has a salary cap hit at only $2.3 million. The Penguins and Hurricanes also have a history with making trades with each other.