As of last Monday, the Canes have a new goal-scoring leader and his name is Tuomo Ruutu. With 14 goals and 22 points in 40 games, Ruutu is having a very good season and is on-pace to break a personal record for goals in a season. Ruutu is also set to become an unrestricted free agent once the season is over and with the Hurricanes out of the playoff race, it has many wondering if we should deal the 28-year old Finn. I'm not a huge fan of the whole "the team sucks, trade everyone for peanuts" mindset because if the team is going to give up Ruutu, then they better make damn sure that we get something of value back in return.
Ruutu is one of six regular forwards on the team with a positive scoring chance rating, is playing on (arguably) the team's only scoring line and has been a key part to the team's offense. If we do lose him then it will have a negative effect on the rest of the team this year. There are plenty of good reasons for dealing Ruutu, though. For one, he is on pace for his highest goal total since he is pushing 30, his value right now might be higher than it ever will be. He could fetch a solid return at the deadline for the Hurricanes to work with and it is better than letting him walk for nothing this summer.
In my opinion, the only time you should trade a player is in the following circumstances:
1. He is a pending unrestricted free agent and the team he plays for is in rebuild mode.
2. The potential free agent market is very thin and said team will have to overpay to sign him.
3. This player is at the point where his value is at its peak.
The first two are true, but is Ruutu's value at its highest point right now? When it comes to re-signing players, Jonathan Willis of Oilers Nation looks for things called "red flags" which are reasons why committing years and money to a free agent might not be worth the risk. Are there any "red flags" with Ruutu? We'll look into that after the jump.
In my VUKOTA-style projection for Ruutu, I saw him finishing the year with 17 goals and 44 points. It is almost certain that he will break that goal total but 40-50 points wil likely be where he finishes due to a low assist total (which is a bit strange). He set a new high for points last season with 57 and is in his late 20's so you have to wonder if Ruutu is in the "prime" of his career right now and could be on the decline soon. Most players tend to see their production dip after they turn 30 but there are plenty of exceptions to that rule.
To get an idea of where Ruutu is in his career and if there are any "red flags" surrounding him, were going to take a look at his stats in recent seasons courtesy of Behind The Net.Year GP Goals Assists Pts. EV PP 5v5 Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO Corsi Rel. SOG 2007-08 77 10 22 32 6 4 0.08 0.0916 1.006 6.1 100 2008-09 79 26 28 54 16 10 0.1163 0.0814 0.992 4.1 190 2009-10 54 14 21 35 9 5 0.1098 0.0893 0.989 8 122 2010-11 82 19 38 57 12 7 0.1188 0.1053 1.022 2.7 148 2011-12 39 14 8 22 12 2 0.193 0.1145 1.011 5.2 87
PDO is the sum of a player's on-ice shooting and save percentages. It is a measure of how lucky a player is.
The one thing that sticks out to me is the high PDO and shooting percentages this year. Ruutu is on pace to shoot the puck as many times as he did during his 2008-09 season and he's getting some incredibly good fortune when he does get it on net (probably from the number of tip-ins). His 5-on-5 shooting percentage is not going to sustain in the long run and neither will his high goal-scoring rate. He's got a good shot of hitting 20+ goals this year but it gets hazy after that.
An interesting thing here is how this season is basically a reversal from his 26-goal campaign in terms of production at even strength and the poweprlay. Ruutu's career shooting percentage is around 11%, which means he wasn't getting much puck luck in 2008-09 but he scored 10 of his goals on the powerplay. It's the other way around this year as he's getting a ton of good luck at even strength but not scoring on the powerplay, or at least not yet. Still a lot of hockey to be played. The good news concerning his shooting percentage is that Ruutu has always been a solid possession forward and a positive player territorially (that's carried over this year), so he's likely to score 15-22 goals even if his shooting percentage regresses.
Health is the other concern with Ruutu because he plays a physical game and has had a couple seasons that were cut short due to injuries. That is a gamble that you take on nearly every plyaer, though. He managed to stay healthy throughout all of last season and hasn't missed any games this year either (although there was some talk that he may have been playing hurt at the beginning of the year). Signing Ruutu long-term is risky when you take his health and playing style into account but I don't believe it's terribly worse than other players.
Going back to the incredibly high shooting percentage, there might be speculation that this year is just smoke-and-mirrors and it would be best to trade him now before the inevitable crash happens. The problem with that claim is that it just isn't true. A look at Ruutu's underlying numbers shows that he might not be this good, but he is capable of driving possession and this year isn't a complete fluke.
This is Ruutu's scoring chance and corsi ratio's compared with the team's corsi ratio throughout the year. Similar to Eric Staal, Ruutu was not good at all for the first few games or so but he has been on a steady upward climb since then and the outburst in goals should not have come as a surprise. 12 even strength goals this early in the year was a bit of a shocker when you consider that he scored 12 EV goals all of last season.
So, we've established that Ruutu is a great player and is good for at least 40-50 points for the next couple of seasons if he stays healthy. The question is how much is that worth to the Hurricanes? With players like Brooks Laich, RJ Umberger and David Backes signing long-term deals of $4+ mil. you have to think that Ruutu will be asking for something similar, especially if he hits 30 goals. Going from this perspective, it's unlikely that Ruutu's value will be this high again so once the deadline rolls around, Carolina could get a big return for him. Then you have to consider how much Ruutu helps this team and if the Canes see him in their future plans.
Personally, I would not sign him to a long-term deal no matter how many goals he scores this year. He is 28 and being on the hook for a $4+ mil. cap hit for 5-6 years for a player who will be 34 when it expires is something the Canes do not need right now. Ruutu has earned a contract that will pay him at least $4 mil per season and is worth that much now, but will he be worth it after he turns 30? Players like Mike Knuble have stood the test of time but for the most part, players point production declines after they hit that mark.
Do I want Ruutu traded? No, but I also don't want to see this team make the same mistake that they did with Ray Whitney a couple years ago. This is the highest Ruutu's value could be in his career and if the Canes can get a piece to build with moving forward in return for him, then it will be hard to say no. Getting Ruutu to re-sign could be difficult with how the NHL free agency market is, but if he is willing to sign a 3-4 year deal similar to what Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen have, then I would re-sign him in a heartbeat. Ruutu is not irreplaceable but neither was Erik Cole and look how that situation has turned out.
It will be interesting to see what happens with him and if he can keep up his current pace.
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