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

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.

Video: Eichel’s first career NHL goal

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Didn’t take long for Jack Eichel to make his mark at the NHL level.

The No. 2 overall pick at this year’s draft scored his first-ever NHL goal in his first-ever NHL game on Thursday night, cutting Ottawa’s lead to 2-1 in the third period of Buffalo’s season-opener.

Marcus Foligno and another new Sabre, Evander Kane, registered the assists on Eichel’s marker, which came on the power play.


Tough start: Lehner knocked out of Sabres debut, won’t return

Matt Puempel, Alex Chiasson, Robin Lehner
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Chances are Robin Lehner won’t look back fondly on his first game as a Sabre.

Midway through Buffalo’s season-opener against Ottawa, Lehner — facing his old team for the first time since getting traded this summer — suffered a lower-body injury, and was forced from the contest.

During the second intermission, the Sabres ruled out Lehner for the night.

It was a difficult turn of events for 24-year-old, who admitted he was keen to go up against the Sens. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his time in the Canadian capital; Lehner felt he never got a full opportunity to run with the No. 1 gig, and probably wasn’t thrilled GM Bryan Murray opted to keep Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond instead of him.

As for tonight’s injury, details are scarce. All that’s known is the ailment was serious enough for Lehner to leave and not return, forcing backup Chad Johnson into duty.

Prior to getting hurt, Lehner had stopped 11 of 12 shots faced.