After weeks of waiting to find out what would happen with Hurricanes winger and pending UFA Tuomo Ruutu, we finally got our answer today. The 29 year-old Finn will be staying in Raleigh for the foreseeable future as he just signed a four-year contract worth $19 mil. The contract will pay him $4 mil. next season and $5 mil. the three years after that which equates to a cap hit of about $4.75 mil. per year.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, this is an overpayment and a pretty big one at that. Ruutu is a superb player and a great player to have in your top-six but I can’t say that he is worth $4.75 mil. Yes, he scored 26 goals in 2008-09, which was mostly due to some absurd powerplay production, but he hasn’t gotten close to that since then. His career high in points is 57 and his point pace has hovered around 45-55 for most of his career so we know where he stands right now. This year, he was on pace to score more than 20 goals for only the third time in his career and put up around 45 points. He’s also 29, so what we’re seeing right now is what we’ll get for the next few years. In other words, Ruutu is good for about 15-25 goals and 45-55 points for the next few seasons. Is that worth $4.75 mil.? I don’t think it is.
While this is an overpayment, I do not think that this contract should be considered an albatross or a mistake or Jim Rutherford’s part. First of all, look at some of the players who are making $4.5-5 mil. right now. You’ll see names like Tomas Fleischmann, Ryan Malone, David Backes, RJ Umberger, Brooks Laich and Martin Erat. All of them except for Backes fall under the “overpaid” category but that’s the way the market has been. If Rutherford had let Ruutu walk, another team would have given him a similar contract with how this year’s free agent class looks. I was hoping Ruutu would take less money but I think Rutehrford overpaid by less than $1 mil. here given the market.
The issue I had with letting Ruutu walk is that replacing him over the off-season would be a huge pain. Rutherford would have either did the same thing he did this off-season with Erik Cole by going the cheap route to replace him (which didn’t work out at all) or overpay for another free agent. If we were going to spend around $5 mil. a year for a player, I’d prefer it to be someone who is better than Ruutu but, as I mentioned earlier, the free agent market doesn’t have much to offer. If I were running the Canes, I would offer Ales Hemsky a three-year deal at a high cap hit and see what we can get out of him. He’s a legit first liner and would be perfect for Carolina if he stays healthy but what are the odds of a deal like this happening? Rutherford has never been terribly active in the free agent market and there are going to be a lot of teams going after Hemsky. I don’t know if the Canes would be able to land him. Keeping Ruutu around isn’t the worst thing they can do, especially with the success he’s had with Staal this year.
Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of concerns with this contract. Ruutu’s possession rates have been declining over his career and while I do think he will stay productive for the remainder of his contract, it’s worth keeping an eye on. Injuries are also a problem with Ruutu given how physical he plays and the fact that he’s hurt now shows that. The increased salary will also increase his expectations because people are going to want to see more from a guy who is earning $4.75 mil. a year than one making $3.9 mil. I don’t expect his production to take any huge leaps forward (or backward) so I can imagine this being a problem down the line when people look at his contract compared to his production.
Regardless, a four year deal isn’t that bad of a contract even if the cap hit is high and I don’t think this will hurt Carolina’s future plans that much. Rutherford operates on a budget the the Canes are rarely a cap team. I can see Ruutu’s salary playing a factor when it comes time to give Jeff Skinner a new contract but that’s about it. If this were something like six years with the same cap hit, then I would be upset and say that it has the potential to become an albatross, but a four year deal is much less likely to sink a team.
In short, the Canes overpaid to keep Ruutu around but they made the right call by giving him four years instead of something longer than that. There were likely better options out there but at the very least, the Hurricanes shouldn’t expect Ruutu’s production to tail off completely for the rest of his contract and they have one less hole to fill in their top-six. It’s not ideal, but I am content with this for the time being.