Around the turn of the year is the time when NHL teams start considering whether or not to make moves to brace themselves for the difficult months ahead. Almost half the season has passed, and any strengths and weaknesses with any given team have long been identified.
It is also the time when rumours start surfacing about potential deals in the making. Players are named who might be considered a trade piece for teams looking to improve or teams looking to shed assets for future draft picks.
The Caps are off to their worst start since when Glen Hanlon was in charge, and their head coach has already been sacrificed to try to find an improvement. Not much has changed, and it is becoming increasingly clear that a major move to shake up the Capitals corps is nearing.
A move to bring in Finnish left-winger Ruutu could serve to do just that.
Ruutu is a 28-year-old veteran of eight NHL seasons who carries a cap hit just below $4 million, but is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He is known as a physical top six forward who can agitate opponents and isn't afraid to mix it up, but is also an offensive force. Capitals fans will best know him for when he rudely hit Dennis Wideman last season, leading to a devastating leg hematoma injury that would keep the Caps defenseman out of the playoffs.
Indeed, the game Ruutu brings to the table might be just the kind the Capitals are looking for.
The Capitals have struggled in their physical play so far this season. Their 704 hits put them in 17th in the NHL. Ruutu's 71 hits through 35 games would put him at third among the Capitals, behind only Troy Brouwer (106) and Alex Ovechkin (87).
Ruutu also isn't afraid to shoot, and a Capitals team that has averaged just 29.8 shots per game would welcome some indiscriminate firing of the puck. Ruutu's 74 shots would place him at fifth among Caps.
All that goes without mentioning that Ruutu, with 11 goals, has scored as much as Caps superstar Alex Ovechkin this season and has compiled 19 points, good for fifth among the Caps. The 6'0", 205-pound winger was knocking on the door of 60 points last season, a number only two Caps players reached.
With Mike Knuble's demotion to the fourth line, the Caps have been missing a top-six winger. Cody Eakin and Jeff Halpern have both had spells, but neither have performed well enough to warrant keeping their spots. The Caps could use another forward.
Ruutu would fit well onto the first line alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström, but could also be a solid complement to Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin on the second. A versatile player, Ruutu would allow coach Dale Hunter to use new combinations in both even strength and on the special teams, and would serve to add a new flavour to the Caps lineup.
As for what it might take to get him to DC, a comparable from last season's trade deadline is Scottie Upshall, who was acquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets along with ex-Cap Sami Lepisto from the Phoenix Coyotes for Rostislav Klesla and Dane Byers. While Ruutu is undoubtedly more valuable than Upshall, they are similar players, and the idea of what the Hurricanes are likely to want to get in return will be similar to that of the Coyotes.
As they are low in that area, the Hurricanes will likely want an established NHL defenseman, along with a high draft pick and a middling prospect. As for the Caps, they will need to shed at least half of Ruutu's salary in cap space to be able to afford him and stay under the cap.
A possible trade scenario would include the Capitals acquiring Ruutu in exchange for defensemen Jeff Schultz and Patrick McNeill along with a 2013 second-round pick.
If Capitals defenseman Tom Poti stays on the long-term injured reserve list, the departure of Schultz would allow the Caps to just sneak under the cap. In return, the Hurricanes get a good NHL defenseman and one of the better young AHL players, as well as a good pick in a future draft.
Both teams would benefit from this deal. Look for the Caps to take a run at Ruutu in the not-so-distant future.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95