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Hurricanes lock up top defenseman Joni Pitkanen for three years, $13.5M

Jun 28, 2011, 5:26 PM EST

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While one can debate whether or not he actually should be a big-minute defenseman, Joni Pitkanen plays that role for the Carolina Hurricanes. Only 12 other players averaged more than the Finnish blueliner’s 24:55 minutes per game in 2010-11 and that was actually a step back to the norm after he averaged a whopping 27:23 time on ice in 09-10.

The Hurricanes rewarded Pitkanen for his big minutes and solid offensive contributions (35 points in 10-11, 46 in 09-10) with a three-year, $13.5 million contract extension today. That amounts to a $4.5 million annual salary cap hit, which is a $500K per year raise from his soon-to-expire three year deal for $12 million.

That’s not a bad deal for the Hurricanes considering how much they depend on Pitkanen. It also might be a bit generous of Pitkanen when you take into account how weak the market is for unrestricted free agent defensemen. That’s not to say that he would be guaranteed to make more money on the open market, but with few other options, it is at least conceivable that he might receive more.

Still, he probably enjoys his role and time in Carolina and they’re paying him a nice sum. This leaves the Hurricanes with about $28.7 million of cap space and 7-10 roster spots to fill. The team has some questions left to answer, with Erik Cole and Jussi Jokinen being there most prominent unrestricted free agent and Brandon Sutter headed for restricted free agency.

It’s quite possible that their defense might be more or less set after today’s signing, though.

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