Ruutu signed a four-year contract extension on Wednesday, which keeps him, along with Eric Staal
, Cam Ward
and Tim Gleason
, with the Hurricanes through the 2015-16 season. This officially removes one of the most coveted forwards from the market with the trade deadline now just five days away.
Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford made it clear how he views Ruutu’s role on the team, saying he’d be “extremely difficult to replace.” The team wanted to keep him in the fold, and Ruutu was more than happy and overly grateful that he was given the opportunity to stay.
“Most of all, the people – on my team, in this organization and Raleigh overall,” Ruutu said, when asked what made him want to re-sign. “I like being here, and I really think we have a good future.
“I’ve still felt comfortable throughout the whole process. I’ve been sure about what I wanted to do, and I’m really happy that they wanted to have me here.”
Even though the Ruutu knew he wanted to stay from the get-go, he pointed to the meeting he had with Rutherford on the Canes’ most recent road trip in which they discussed the future.
“For me, a really big thing is that we have great team chemistry,” Ruutu said. “We have great guys, guys that really care. I think that’s the only way we can win, and I know we have it in here, so I’m excited to stay.”
When Gleason signed an extension at the end of January, he mentioned friendships playing a big part in his desire to remain a Hurricane. They’re special and hard to come by, he said. The 29-year-old Ruutu echoed that and said they are “most important.”
“I want to win, but I think you can only win with good relationships with good people around you,” he said. “Every time I come to the rink, I have fun. I like being around the guys.
“It’s not just players; it’s team staff, trainers, equipment guys, they’re all good people. That’s the way to be successful – be surrounded by good people.”
The Canes believe the Vantaa, Finland native is one of those good people. They saw that when they acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks in a February trade four years ago. They also see his value as a top-six forward who can score 25 goals and eclipse 50 points.
Before being injured, Ruutu led the team in goals with 17. Had he played all 82 games, he was on pace for nearly 25 goals and over 40 points. He had a career season in 2008-09, netting 26 goals and recording 28 assists (54 points) in 79 games.
He also brings the intangibles with a big body that can clear room for his linemates. Ruutu ranks second on the team in hits with 106 and is a plus-3.
“I want to be a big piece of this team, and [the Canes] probably think that way, as well,” Ruutu said. “I do what I do, and I don’t really think of how big a piece I am. I try to be as big as I can.”
For the last few months, Ruutu’s name has daily been thrown into trade discussions. It’s no shock that playoff-bound teams would want a guy like him in the locker room and on the ice. He's got over 500 games of NHL experience, 289 of which have been with the Hurricanes, and he's had a taste of the playoffs (during the 08-09 campagin).
And even though prior to this year, Rutherford did not negotiate contracts mid-season, Ruutu never really thought about life outside of a Hurricanes’ sweater.
“The last couple of weeks, I haven’t paid much attention,” he said. “A month and a half ago, I didn’t usually read that stuff, but I heard it from the guys and from my friends. At that point, it’s like ‘Ok, what’s going on?’
“For me, the toughest part has been I just want to play. I want to concentrate on playing good hockey,” he said. “All the other stuff, I want the other people that know how to do that stuff take care of that. I’ll try to do my job and play.”
Currently, though, Ruutu can’t play, as he’s sidelined with an upper-body injury, suffered on Feb. 13 in Montreal. An MRI the next day revealed he’d miss approximately three weeks, which puts his return still close to 15 days away. Ruutu said that timetable is still accurate, but added that it would be “hopefully less.”
“It’s frustrating to be out, and I would definitely want to be out there and play and help do my part,” he said. “If we keep winning, I’ll keep a smile on my face even if I’m hurt.”
He was smiling today, and that smile will stay in Raleigh for four more years.