The Chicago Blackhawks have signed defenseman Jan Rutta to a one year extension.
Rutta, who signed a one year, $925,000 contract last off-season, will now carry a $2.25 million cap hit for next season. This came two days after the Blackhawks signed defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a two year contract with a $1.2 million per year cap hit. Along with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy and Jordan Oesterle, the Blackhawks now have $20 million tied to the d-corps.
With the cap reportedly going up by $5 million next year (to $80 million), the Blackhawks will be playing with more money compared to offseasons past. They can still afford to make a splash on July 1st by getting a big free agent addition, and they can make more room for that by burying the contracts of Oesterle and Gustafsson in the minors (although they would have to get through waivers). They also have Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling signed through next year.
But with Rutta and Gustafsson having a combined cap hit of $3.45 million next year, the odds of Stan Bowman making a splash in free agency this summer seems almost next to nothing. Doubling down on the two, who are top 5 and top 6 defensemen in the Blackhawks roster, at best, may be an indication that the front office is banking on this defensive corps, as it is, to carry the water for the team next season. They may be looking at Keith and Seabrook and are making the argument that this year was an aberration for both of them, and they will be back to form next season, especially Keith.
Even in a down year, Keith’s top pairing with Oesterle has been good for the Blackhawks. Murphy and Seabrook, who have been in the bottom pairing for most of the season, has worked so far. This could mean that Rutta will be entrusted with playing a more shutdown role next season.
This can also mean that the Blackhawks are of the mindset that 2017 first round pick Henri Jokiharju may not be yet ready for primetime.
Rutta, who has played only 43 games this season, has been in and out of the lineup due to health reasons. He has six goals and thirteen assists in those 43 games. His six goals leads all Blackhawks defensemen. The health concerns prove to be a risk, but the reward of a possible 40 to 45 point production, which he was in pace for this year if it wer not for the injuries, could be a boon for the Blackhawks next season.