Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 07/12/09 at 09:42 PM ET
All summer long, there’s been talk of the Canes adding size and toughness to the roster. They obviously had that in mind at the draft, but none of those players will be making the Hurricanes roster this fall. They’ve added right wing Steven Goertzen, who certainly adds size (6’2” 216 lbs), and he’s reputed to be a tough guy, but he doesn’t exactly bring NHL talent. Sure, he’ll be called up a couple of times, but he’s going to be dragging his knuckles alongside Tim Conboy in Albany.
The Canes need to re-sign Tuomo Ruutu, which is the important issue for the forward lines. There’s still a bit of work to be done on the blueline. The consensus all summer long has been that Dennis Seidenberg has become too expensive to be a part of the Canes future. Now there’s word that Anton Babchuk has, for a second time, worn out his welcome in Raleigh. Carolina has five NHL defensemen under contract, and will obviously need to get at least one more signed.
Last week, the Hurricanes announced that they were looking to sign a couple of FA defensive minded defensemen. On Thursday, they signed Jay Harrison to a one-year two-way contract for the NHL league minimum. If he plays in Albany, he’ll make a salary of $125K, and they’ve guaranteed him $175k.
Exactly. Harrison is 6’4” 211 lbs and is described as a defensive defenseman. That’s good and well, but he’s not really what the big club needs. In four seasons, he’s played a total of 20 NHL games. Last season, he played pro hockey in Switzerland, and he’s spent most of his career in the AHL as a prospect for the Maple Leafs. While Jim Rutherford has said that he could compete for a spot on the big club, I don’t think this is acceptable. I think Carolina can do better without breaking the bank.
One player who might fit Carolina’s needs is UFA Ossi Väänänen. The 28-year old Finn has the size (6’4” 215 lbs) that Carolina needs. What I’ve read about him suggests that he’s a physical, stay-at-home defenseman who isn’t going to hurt you too much in your own end. Väänänen split time with the Flyers and the Canucks last season. He was the 6/7 defenseman for the Flyers, who waived him to make room for Daniel Briere to return from injury. He was pretty much the designated healthy scratch in Vancouver. Despite being in and out of the lineup and despite having limtied ice time per game, he still put up decent numbers. He finished the season with 89 hits and 75 blocked shots in 49 games played. These numbers with only 878 minutes of ice time all season.
I’m pretty lousy with spreadsheets, but I decided to plug Väänänen’s stats into a couple of sheets with all of Carolina’s defensemen. The first one sorts the defensemen by the number of hits they delivered per minute of ice time in the 2008-09 season.
The second one sorts them based upon the number of shots they blocked per minute of ice time.
It’s no surprise that the offensive minded Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkänen bring up the rear in those defensive categories, but they definitely bring their own things to the table. I’m going to be honest. I was surprised to see that Dennis Seidenberg had blocked that many shots. Unfortunately, he’s most likely out of the picture for next season. Babchuk is back to being petulant, so he might make a return to the KLH. He played in Russia in 2007-08, and it resulted in becoming ineligible for arbitration rights and/or UFA status. The point is, if both of these guys are out, Carolina will need to find someone who can block shots. Bless the hearts of every one of the “Rat Pack”, but they’re not going to be able to handle that charge. The only option will be to get an NHL-ready guy. There’s plenty of FA defensemen available, as this list shows, but the number of guys who will suit Carolina’s needs is pretty small. Some of the guys on that list are too old. Some are too expensive. Some are not defensive enough. Some have little or no NHL experience.
Väänänen made $1M last season, starting off with the Flyers. They needed to clear some cap room for Briere, so they sent him to Vancouver, where he mostly watched games from the press box. He’s young enough. He’s defensive enough. He’s cheap enough. But is he good enough? It seems like people are sort of “meh” about him, and he’s never had a chance to catch on with any team. Since 2002, he’s played for four different NHL teams (Phoenix, Colorado, Philadelphia, Vancouver) and he’s spent a year in Sweden.
The Hurricanes have made a habit, though, of taking players out of the garbage bin and turning them into useful players. I don’t recall actually seeing Väänänen play, but it seems like he might be the kind of defenseman who would fit into the system. Oh, and he’s from Vantaa, which is Tuomo Ruutu’s hometown. You can never have too many Finns.
I’m not at all suggesting that Carolina is talking to him. I’m not even suggesting that he’s on their radar. I’m just saying that he’s one of the available UFA defensemen, and he might be useful to the Canes, and at a decent price.
Jay Harrison isn’t the answer, and I don’t like the idea of relying too much on the Albany guys. Something’s going to have to happen.Of course there are other defensive defensemen out there, but for some reason which I can’t explain, this guy jumped out. Also, I’m bored.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.