Tuomo Ruutu to stick with Carolina Hurricanes

Forward signs four-year extension

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 23, 2012 

  • 7 p.m.

    FSCR, WCMC-99.9

— A few weeks ago, Carolina Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu laughed when asked about the trade speculation revolving around him.

"I've heard rumors I'm going to every team in the NHL," he joked.

Turns out, Ruutu isn't going anywhere. On Wednesday, Ruutu and the Hurricanes agreed on a four-year contract extension worth $19 million.

"It was an easy decision to make," Ruutu said Wednesday. "I trusted my heart, trusted my feelings.

"I like the people around me here: my teammates, my coaches, all the staff, everyone. And I believe in the team. I believe we can win here."

Ruutu, who was due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, will be paid $4 million next season and $5 million in each of the final three years on the contract. He has a no-trade clause the first three years, general manager Jim Rutherford said.

"He's an important player to our team and he's the type of player who, long term, would take a long time to replace," Rutherford said. "We're thankful Tuomo is staying with us. He's an important building block for us in moving forward."

Ruutu, 29, had a team-leading 17 goals and was playing right wing on the Canes' top line with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty when he suffered an upper-body injury Feb. 13 against the Montreal Canadiens. He has missed the past three games and is expected to be out another two weeks.

Despite Ruutu's injury, there were teams still interested in acquiring a bruising player who has 106 hits and a plus-3 plus/minus rating this season. Had he not been re-signed, Ruutu could have been moved before the NHL trade deadline Monday, but Rutherford and Ruutu's Chicago-based agent, Bill Zito, were able to negotiate the extension.

"There have been a lot of rumors but I didn't pay a lot of attention to it," Ruutu said. "I knew I wanted to stay here and I felt we'd get it done."

Rutherford had never negotiated a new contract with a player during the season until this year. But he signed defenseman Tim Gleason to a four-year extension Jan. 30, and now has done the same with Ruutu, who is being paid $4.4 million this season.

"When (Rutherford) first called me about this, I said, 'What do you mean, you don't do this?'" Zito said Wednesday.

Why the change in team policy for Gleason and Ruutu?

"One reason is we've been finding out there are less and less players of their caliber who are available (as free agents) in the offseason," Rutherford said. "Another reason is their age. We have not had many who were to be (unrestricted) free agents who were in their 20s. Age was an important factor with Tim and Tuomo."

Zito said there could have been better deals available on July 1, when free agency begins, but that Ruutu wanted to re-sign with the Canes.

"There are not too many times when a player at this point in his career stares down July 1 as an option," Zito said. "But Tuomo is really happy."

Ruutu was a first-round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He played parts of four seasons with the Blackhawks - at times slowed by back and ankle injuries - before being traded to Carolina on Feb. 26, 2008, for forward Andrew Ladd.

A native of Vantaa, Finland, Ruutu scored a career-high 26 goals in the 2008-2009 season as the Canes reached the NHL's Eastern Conference finals. He had 14 goals in 54 games the next season before undergoing shoulder surgery in late-March. He followed that up with 19 goals and a career-high 57 points last season while playing in all 82 games.

"We can win another Stanley Cup here," Ruutu said. "They've won it once, been to the Cup finals another time, been to the conference finals, and all in a pretty short history.

"I want to win the Cup. With good team chemistry and talent, we can win. It takes both and I think we have it here."

Before the announcement of the extension, Canes forward Brandon Sutter was talking about the trade deadline and how everyone hoped Ruutu would be re-signed.

"You never want to see a guy have to leave, and especially one who is liked in the room and a hard-working player, too," Sutter said.

NOTE: The Canes on Wednesday recalled goaltender Mike Murphy from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL on an emergency basis for goalie Cam Ward, who has been slowed by a lower-body injury. Canes coach Kirk Muller had said Ward might be able to start tonight's home game against the Anaheim Ducks, but Ward did not practice Wednesday and Justin Peters apparently will be in net tonight.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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