“I’ve heard rumors I’m going to every team in the NHL."
That line may sound like a rather humorous epitome of the endless rumors that annually surround the NHL Trade Deadline, but for Tuomu Ruutu, he's not kidding.
The Carolina Hurricanes' 28-year-old winger, who told, half-seriously, the above quote to the Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander in an interview earlier this month, is an upcoming free agent on a definite "seller" team—a sure-fire recipe for heated trade talks as the Feb. 29th deadline approaches.
Indeed, Ruutu has become arguably the most desirable player available since Carolina GM Jim Rutherford took Tim Gleason off the market last week.
With a nice total of 17 goals on the year—easily on pace to record the fourth 19-plus goal season of his career—as well as strong hitting presence (second in the NHL in hits last year), Ruutu offers the well-rounded package that a plethora of playoff bubble teams would love to get their hands on.
The former Olympian's $3.8 million cap hit—really only worth about $1.3 million over the last few months of the season—is unlikely to deter many lustful GM's from making their bid. However, Rutherford's asking price is said to be steep, adding to the Ruutu sweepstakes yet another aura of complexity that's sure to fascinate NHL gossipers all February long.
Every new week has been forecasted to bring a resolution to the madness, but so far, none of those predictions have held true. A completed deal could be announced at any time, though, giving the current frontrunners an edge that, for most other clubs on the fray, could be impossible to overcome.
Is your favorite team in contention to land 2012's hottest acquisition? Well, have a look.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and GM Brian Burke are perennial heavyweights on the rumor market, although almost all of their supposed blockbusters never pan out. In fact, the Leafs were considered one of the top suitors for Eric Staal back in his October/November nightmare. We know how that worked out.
So, as should be expected, Toronto is widely rumored to be a leading candidate to land Ruutu this spring.
The Leafs are currently three points into a playoff spot, but they haven't made the postseason since the lockout and lack any substantial experience whatsoever if they do manage to get to the playoffs.
Ruutu's skills in a variety of categories would provide a major boost to Toronto's unreliable second line and help shore up the roster in time for March and April. Says Bob Mitchell of TheStar.com:
Ruutu would be a good, solid piece for the Leafs. He can hit, skate, score and provide playoff toughness.
The scuttlebutt has Rutherford seeking a ... blue-chip prospect for Ruutu, [and the] Leafs can afford to deal one of their young assets ... one of Joe Colborne or Nazem Kadri have been mentioned as potential trade possibilities.
Much like the aforementioned Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators have a boatload of available cash, an unquenchable hunger for a rare playoff appearance and a current roster that's questionable to have the capabilities of taking them there.
After last year's miserable 13th-place finish, many were surprised when the young Sens jumped out to the front of the pack last autumn. Conversely, their inconsistency has since pushed them back to earth, as Ottawa has posted a dismal 2-7-1 record in their last 10 games to fall within two points of the cut-off line.
Desperately in need of a dependable top-six forward to tie the offense together, Ottawa has a boatload of prospects that could garner someone like Tuomo Ruutu in return. The Hockey Writers note that 23-year-old Kaspars Daugavins is expendable, and a good many other youngsters are also surely worth dealing for an addition like Ruutu.
On the other hand, Ottawa GM Bryan Murray told the Ottawa Sun a week ago that he's in no hurry to make a trade:
You inquire with several teams about what they might be looking for or doing, but nothing in any detail. If there’s an upgrade available in a couple of spots, we would really look at it. But I do like the energy our team has and the chemistry our team has.
Before coming to Carolina at the '08 trade deadline, Tuomo Ruutu actually was a Chicago Blackhawk. They drafted the Finn ninth overall in 2001 and saw him score 82 points in 168 games before shipping him off to the 'Canes for Andrew Ladd—now the captain of the Winnipeg Jets.
With six consecutive losses in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, wouldn't they love to have him back now?
Back on Jan. 17, Kevin Allen of the USA Today noted that "the Blackhawks have one of the NHL's most dangerous offensive teams. Can you imagine how dynamic they would be if they could land a quality No. 2 offensive center?"
And, while Ruutu is traditionally listed as a winger, CenterIceChat.com's Matt Wilson was quick to point out that "Ruutu...did start at [center] last season."
The unstoppable top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane has been nearly inseparable for years now, but the huge success of Marian Hossa and Viktor Stalberg this season has put the 'Hawks just one player away from establishing an equally-dangerous second line of forwards.
And Tuomo Ruutu could be the one that they're looking for.
Half-baked, premature trades don't sit well in San Jose, and for good reason—their dominant regular-season powerhouse has been cursed by them in the playoffs more than few too many times.
But Tuomo Ruutu might be a different case. He can score, he can forecheck, he can play defense and he can be trusted in all zones of the ice.
Right wing Marty Havlat remains on injured reserve and is not expected to return before early March -- after the trade deadline.
Havlat, who had two goals and 13 assists in 26 games, has been inconsistent this season. Will he return as the effective player who scored three points in the two games before tearing a hamstring tendon Dec. 17? Or the player kept off the scoresheet in 12 of 16 games before that?
Pollak later brings up Ruutu as a "player of interest," beating us to the point that the 28-year-old seems like an ideal addition to fill Havlat's likely-deserted role.
For the Sharks, leading the Pacific Division despite sitting at a less-than-comfortable six point margin above the eighth-place cut-off, Ruutu could provide the spark—and the good play—that they'll desperately need down the stretch.
Tuomo Ruutu has seemed more enticing to bubble teams than anyone else so far, but the New York Rangers, atop the Eastern Conference with a 33-13-5 record, could be out to change that.
TSN's Bob McKenzie mentioned them, among others, as a reported inquirer about Ruutu, adding that "the Rangers, for example, figure Ruutu is just the type of Top 9 forward that could play coach John Tortorella's demanding style."
Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have both had great 2011-12 campaigns in the Big Apple, but the Rangers offense remains a middle-of-the-pack 13th.
With zero postseason series victories since the '08 first round, entering April without a glaring shortfall will be critical for the Blueshirts—and Ruutu might help them achieve that.
After a fast and furious start that saw the Minnesota Wild hold the league lead at several points, perpetually-struggling Minnesota has crashed this winter and fallen down to the mere brink of the playoffs.
The Wild are holding on to a tie with the Phoenix Coyotes for eighth place in the West, having won just five of their last 23 games. Their offense ranks second-to-last; their power play sixth-to-last.
Think that the Wild need a trustworthy, capable forward? Yeah, us too.
The Tuomo Ruutu alarm has sounded.
The Globe and Mail has already asked the question—also reminding readers that Ruutu is "a close friend of Wild captain Mikko Koivu"—that so many think could soon find an answer. If the Finn is Minnesota-bound, expect an eye-opening crop of draft picks heading the other way.
The Detroit Red Wings have the offensive firepower that could render Tuomo Ruutu merely a depth addition, but that's not to say he wouldn't be welcomed onto the NHL's first-place team.
The Ottawa Sun got the Ruutu-to-Detroit rumors started off back in December, when they wrote this synopsis of the Wings situation:
Don’t be surprised if the Wings add a veteran forward before the February deadline. They’ve got the cap space to make a deal and GM Ken Holland has always made shrewd moves. They’d just like more depth up front and don’t be surprised if they make a pitch for Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu.
However, it's interesting to learn that Ruutu would actually be tied for second on the team in goals at the moment—knotted at 17 with Jiri Hudler and four behind the 21 of Johan Franzen—and he could also assist Detroit with their 24th-ranked penalty kill.
If Ruutu wants to earn a Cup, there's little question of where he'd wish to be traded. But could he truly shine on this stacked roster?
That's a little less certain.
The Carolina Hurricanes shocked the defending Cup champion Boston Bruins in their season series this year, finishing their four-game sweep with a definitive 3-0 rout last week, but there's little question regarding the Canes' and Bruins' rightful places in the standings.
With the buyer vs. seller difference so clear between these two squads, Boston would love to add Tuomo Ruutu to the fray, who burned them multiple times this season.
Kevin Paul-Dupont of the Boston Globe recently explored the vacancies from last year's Bruins roster that still remain today, and outlined Ruutu as a likely target to fill the gap left by current-Dallas Star Michael Ryder.
Moreover, despite their rough-and-tumble reputation, the Bruins are way down the list in terms of hits, currently stuck at 24th in the league. Given that Cal Clutterbuck isn't on the market, Tuomo Ruutu and his multi-faceted resume might be the next-best option to help with that weakness as Boston looks to prepare for a repeat.
For the Nashville Predators, there are two reasons to make trades this February:
The first is, as it should be, to improve the roster in time for the playoffs. But their No. 2 priority, to convince 2012 UFA cornerstones Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to stay, is a little unconventional.
As USA Today pointed out, a deal for another 2012 UFA, Tuomo Ruutu, is unlikely to do much to satisfy objective No. 2, but could definitely help an offensively-outmatched Predators squad compete deep into the postseason.
Ruutu would enter the Music City leading the team in goals (by one over Mike Fisher)—actually somewhat of a testament to the balanced Nashville attack, which already has nine players over the double-digit goals plateau.
From Carolina's perspective, one of the Preds' juicy young defensemen would help restock a Hurricanes defensive prospect system that's currently run dry. With a second- or third-round pick added in, someone like Roman Josi equates to a fair exchange.
The St. Louis Blues employ a strategy we don't see much in today's NHL; they lie low, stockpile talent and then, at just the right moment, they make their charge at the Western Conference crown.
That "right moment" appears to be...well, right now. Since hiring Ken Hitchcock as head coach in November, the Blues have blossomed into a consistent squad just five points off the NHL lead. By no means, though, does that equate to immediate playoff success, and they know it.
To help fill in some holes before the deadline passes, St. Louis could show interest in Tuomo Ruutu. He perfectly fits the well-rounded, defensively-focused game plan they execute on a nightly basis, but can also add a new dimension to their conservative forecheck.
Coming the other way, as Andy Strickland of TrueHockey.com was eager to analyze, could be a oft-discussed player who's almost as intriguing—Chris Stewart.
Stewart is an interesting player to look at. He’s shown he can score with back to back 28-goal seasons, but it’s no secret things haven’t gone his way this year. At minimum, he’s due his $3.25 million salary at the end of the season. Will GM Doug Armstrong and the Blues be willing to part with Stewart knowing it could come back to bite them down the road?
24-year-old Stewart's struggles are well-documented: the former first-round pick has just 10 goals and 20 points in 49 appearances this season. But would a reunion in Carolina with his brother, Anthony Stewart, get Chris going again?
Maybe, just maybe, we'll get a chance to see.