The Chicago Blackhawks decided to re-sign another of their struggling group of defensemen, keeping Jan Rutta around for another year
The Chicago Blackhawks’ Twitterverse seemed a bit confused earlier this week when Erik Gustafsson was inked to a new, two-year contract. Why was this guy who had played sporadically in the NHL — and at an average level, at best — being kept around for a team in a rebuild?
Well, the Blackhawks doubled down on that talking point today by re-signing Jan Rutta to a one-year deal. Rutta’s deal is reportedly worth $2.25 million, an increase from his $925,000 contract this season.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus summed things up pretty well after the Rutta news broke:
So that’s interesting. Obviously, Lazerus is not Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. But as a tenured Blackhawks beat writer, as well as an NHL follower, he has a better idea than many about projected player value.
The Blackhawks have tabled sizable contracts to Rutta and Gustafsson ($1.2 million cap hit each of the next two seasons). It’s odd, considering neither has impressed for more than a month or two at a time over their respective NHL careers.
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Youngsters not ready?
This could be a reaction to the so-so performance of young blueliner Carl Dahlstrom during his ongoing call-up.
Dahlstrom was the first defenseman without true NHL experience to get called up during this season. He remains the only one and has tallied three assists, a minus-2 rating and a 52.17 Corsi-for rating at even strength across 11 games.
Dahlstrom has looked OK on the offensive side, but he seems to be a bit “deer in the headlights” in his own zone. This is to be expected early in his career, especially since pretty much anyone he’s going to get paired with right now isn’t going to offer much backup. There’s definite room for improvement with Dahlstrom.
What does this have to do with the re-signing of Rutta and Gustafsson? Perhaps Bowman takes this Dahlstrom performance, as well as other information from the minor league ranks, as evidence the Blackhawks’ young guns won’t be ready to step up on the blue line next season.
Bowman could be worried that Dahlstrom, Luc Snuggerud, Robin Norell and a returning Gustav Forsling are not ready to step up and take over for these average-at-best guys. The same could be said for Chad Krys and Henri Jokiharju, although they’re at least more-recent draftees.
Bowman may be planning to use Rutta and Gustafsson as stopgaps in case the Blackhawks’ more talented minor league defensive prospects just aren’t ready to make that NHL jump.
The interesting part, then, is the contract size. If the situation changes, and one or more of these guys can prove NHL-ready, it’s going to be hard to move Rutta and Gustafsson with those deals. Not that they’re huge, but most NHL teams are going to realize the two aren’t worth that sort of money.
Both guys, as Lazerus said, could’ve been gotten for $1.5 million or less based on past performance. For some reason, they’ll both be making a much healthier salary moving forward. Handing them new contracts is one thing. Upping their pay for no reason is quite another. Maybe the two were unwilling to accept similar offers to what they have now, and Bowman panicked?
Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how the blue line shakes out in 2018-19 after these two moves.