Columbus Announces Early Christmas Present for Fans
CD - Columbus
Nationwide Arena - Blue Jackets General Manager Doug Emerson made today feel like Christmas for fans when he announced that the team had come to terms on a contract with prospect defenceman Joni Pitkanen.
Pitkanen, from Oulu, Finland, was the Jackets' first-round pick (second overall) in the 2002 Entry Draft, behind only first-veroall selection Jay Bouwmeester. The selection came as somewhat of a surprise at the time, since most observers had winger Rick Nash and goaltender Kari Lehtonen ahead of Pitkanen, but Emerson showed no hesitation in making the selection then, and echoed his confidence in his selection at today's announcement.
"Joni Pitkanen is a tremendous individual. He is a consummate professional, never taking a shift off, and he has displayed a strong work ethic in building his strength and skills over the past two years. This is a player who could have stepped into the HFNHL immediately after the draft, and the last two years of development have only added to his abilities. We have no doubt that Joni will be a signficant contributor to our roster this season, and will be a fixture on the Jackets blueline for many years to come."
The 6-3, 200-pound Pitkanen took one year off to fulfill his military service obligations in Finland, the spent part of last season rehabbing a concussion. He is not considered injury-prone, although the concussion situation will be closely monitored throughout his career.
"I'm just happy to finally be coming to the HFNHL", Pitkanen told reporters. "The Jackets showed a lot of confidence in me from the beginning, even before my draft year, and I've tried to repay that trust by working hard to get here. I can't wait for the season to start."
The Jackets signed Pitkanen to the rookie maximum contract, negotiated with Pitkanen's agent, the prolific Reggie Swingstein. Mr. Swingstein was not present at the signing, but when contacted, offered this comment: "What? What the hell do you want? Can't you see I'm @#$%^&* busy???".
The signing raises questions around the HFNHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, where rookie salaries have been cited as a problem area. Unless the CBA issue is resolved in the coming months, there is the possibility of a work stoppage in the 2005/06 season.
Emerson was quick to deflate any questions around the contract: "Joni Pitkanen is an elite young player. He earned his high draft position, and he has only gotten better since then. I have no issue with paying an elite player elite dollars. What hurts teams is the salaries in the middle... and that's a situation that the league and the players' union need to sort out amongst themselves. I've worked hard as a GM not to inflate the salaries of guys in the the middle, while still giving them fair compensation for their role and contribution. I don't see Columbus as part of the problem, but we will certainly be there as part of the solution when the time comes."