NHL Trade Deadline 2012: Tuomo Ruutu's Decision Will Dictate Trade Market

Andrew HirshContributor IIFebruary 11, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25:  Carolina Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford speaks on the phone during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes may be one of the least relevant teams in the NHL this season, but for the next few weeks, they will be one of the most powerful. 

With the February 27 trade deadline on the horizon, the Canes have several players who are coveted by many of the league's playoff  hopefuls. How GM Jim Rutherford approaches the situation could shape the entire trade market.

It's no secret that Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina's leading goal-scorer, has been highly sought-after. He's been linked to countless trade rumors, some of which have been legitimate. Arguably the most valuable player available at the 2012 deadline, he would require a hefty return from whomever wishes to trade for him—likely a first-round pick, a top prospect or even both. 

Ruutu is, by most accounts, the cream of this year's crop. There aren't any big names up for grabs like in the recent past, when superstars such as Mike Fisher, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa changed allegiances in the middle of the season.

Even though his numbers may not warrant a return of a first-round pick under normal circumstances, the fact that he's the best option will drive his price up considerably. 

Until the last several days, it seemed all but certain that Rutherford would unload Ruutu to the highest bidder, but the Canes GM said on Thursday that it's become a top priority to re-sign the Finnish forward. If a deal does get done that keeps him in Raleigh past the 2011-12 season, the quality of available players will drop substantially. 

But regardless of Rutherford's desires, it still remains to be seen whether Ruutu wants to remain a Hurricane. While he has said that he enjoys being a Hurricane, the Finnish forward is entering the prime of his career, and having the option to pick his own team this summer—one that may be closer to competing for a Stanley Cup or have a larger budget than Carolina—may be too tempting to turn down.  

Take him off the table, though, and everything changes. 

Sure, there's a chance that someone like Jeff Carter or Bobby Ryan gets dealt in the near future, but Ruutu is the only quality NHL goal-scorer available with an expiring contract. 

Either way, his decision will set the tone for the deadline and likely determine whether many contenders attempt to add an extra piece to their team for the playoff run.