Saku Maenalanen was a cult hero for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. Here’s why he shouldn’t come back, not only to Raleigh, but the NHL in general.
Look how much has changed in Carolina over the last twelve months. The optimism in Raleigh is through the roof and the team is playing out of their skin. Okay, their road trip to the west hasn’t been ideal, but the Carolina Hurricanes still have one of the strongest starts in the league.
The core group remains the same as last season, but some of the fringe players have moved on to what they hope are greener pastures. Greg McKegg is now in the Big Apple playing with the New York Rangers and the focus of this piece, Saku Maenalanen, is back in his home country, playing in the KHL for Jokerit Helsinki.
Drafted #125th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2013, Maenalanen remained an unsigned draftee until his rights expired in 2016. It looked for all the world that his NHL dreams were over, until the Carolina Hurricanes signed him to a one year entry-level contract on 18 May 2018.
He went straight to AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, before finally being given his NHL debut against the Anaheim Ducks in California. Eventually, Maenalanen would go on to play 34 regular season games for the Carolina Hurricanes, scoring eight points in total.
Maenalanen was a trusted member of the Carolina Hurricanes roster, given the nod during the playoffs too. However, these playoff games would be his last in Raleigh and Carolina Hurricanes fans across the world were calling out for him to return.
Why didn’t Maenalanen come back then? Was it ice time? Maybe. Was it money? Probably. Either way, his stock has risen since his departure, after the injury to Jordan Martinook. Maenalanen would’ve been the perfect fourth line replacement. Alas, he must remain in the KHL until the end of his contract.
He may now be wanted in Raleigh, but Maenalanen shouldn’t rush back just to fill a fourth line spot on the roster and play 30 games a season. Now, Maenalanen is playing first line minutes, in his home country, in a very competitive league. Jokerit Helsinki have been on great form since Maenalanen joined, winning six of the seven games he’s been involved in.
If money was his reason for leaving then fine. The KHL doesn’t have a salary cap system like the NHL, so he will never be hampered by the issue that many NHL teams find themselves in during the off-season, finding cap space. A problem the Carolina Hurricanes experienced this season.
Ponder this. Why would Maenalanen want to leave? There’s absolutely no need for him to return to the NHL. He’ll never play first line minutes, he’ll never earn as much and he’ll never be valued as high if he comes back. There’s a lot to be said for being valued highly by your team, especially if it’s in a country you’re comfortable in.
It must be an incredibly demoralising thing to have your draft rights expire. To essentially be told that you’re not wanted by the team that brought you so much joy when you were drafted. They put their faith in you and lost it within a few years. This happens to a lot of players, many of which go on to have respectable careers.
Maenalanen’s case is extra specially demoralising because he had his taste of the NHL with another team. All of this taken into account, he should stay in Europe, find a permanent home in the KHL and develop a solid career. He’s young enough and good enough, to still become a cult hero at another club.
Canes fans! What do you think about the current Saku Maenalanen situation? Let us know!