Another hot trade target has bitten the dust.
The Carolina Hurricanes' Tuomo Ruutu, arguably the most desirable potential acquisition of the 2012 trade deadline, had racked up an overwhelming quantity of possible suitors over recent weeks. But now that market might be on the decline.
Ruutu suffered an undisclosed upper body injury in Monday's 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens, leaving the game early in the first period. After he was assessed by team doctors, the 'Canes announced Tuesday afternoon that Ruutu is expected to miss three weeks.
Prospect forward Drayson Bowman was also recalled from AHL Charlotte, but his call-up appears unrelated to Ruutu's injury.
For the 'Canes, dead last in the Eastern Conference with 21-25-11 record, losing Ruutu for a while is unlikely to change much with their already-doomed campaign. However, this new development could have drastic affects on the entire league-wide trade market.
Ruutu was being marketed as the best all-around forward available. His 17 goals on the year currently lead the 'Canes, and his 309 hits from a year ago were second among all NHL players.
Carolina GM Jim Rutherford was reportedly driving a high price for the 28-year-old winger as well. The Globe & Mail reported earlier this month that he expected a first-round pick, or another asset of equal value, in exchange.
With Ruutu set to become an unrestricted free agent this July, his control over his future destination remains strong. Nonetheless, the chances that he'll get out of Raleigh in time to make a playoff push elsewhere—and allow the Hurricanes to receive good value in return—are certainly on the decline.
Many interested clubs may now turn in another direction with Ruutu's health now called into question. The former bronze medal-winning Olympian played a full 82-game season last year, but missed 28 games during the '09-'10 season. Plus, with a guaranteed three weeks off the ice, any trade completed before the Feb. 27 deadline would still fall well within that injured period.
On the other hand, a number of other on-the-market items could now see a stock increase with Ruutu looking severely less appealing.
New Jersey's Zach Parise, Edmonton's Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky, Philadelphia's James van Riemsdyk and Phoenix's Ray Whitney could all see increased offers from around the NHL. The San Jose Sharks, reportedly inquiring about Ruutu as well as about most of those other mid-line forwards, could be a prime "buyer" to watch.
The Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, conversely, could see their deadline plans in ruins with Ruutu no longer the reliable addition they expected him to be. That trio of contenders has shown little interest in other available forwards up to this point.
Who is hurt most by Ruutu's injury?
From the Hurricanes' perspective, however, it only enforces their desire to trade off their other two 2012 UFA's—defensemen Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek.
Allen has reportedly been courted by the Blackhawks (rumor), Red Wings (rumor) and Flyers (rumor) this trade season. Spacek, conversely, had been discussed little before NHL.com noted the Bruins' interest in recent days.
Meanwhile, Michael Smith of the 'Canes official website makes it clear that Rutherford would still like to re-sign Ruutu, writing, " This injury should not impact the Hurricanes’ desires to sign Ruutu (his long-term value outweighs this short-term setback)."
Most of all, though, Ruutu's injury adds just another twist to a trade rumor saga that has captivated hockey insiders for close to a month now. The Finn's balanced resume and sudden emergence in the NHL limelight—helped along by an extremely shallow trade market—make him a fascinating target for many GM's.
And, while this injury may instill a little doubt in his dependability, it's not exactly going to reduce the drama.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his 40 months so far with the site, he has written more than 340 articles and received more than 415,000 total reads.