SportsTalk Live comes at you live from Blackhawks Authentic Fan night at the United Center! Luke Stuckmeyer hosts and is joined by David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Mark Lazerus (Chicago Sun-Times) and Charlie Roumeliotis (NBC Sports Chicago/NHL.com). The guys start things off going over the contract extensions for Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson. Next, who should the Bears aim to sign at wide receiver? Finally, will the Astros or Cubs have a better 2018 season?
It looks like the Blackhawks will have a very similar blue line in the 2018-19 season.
Tuesday, the Blackhawks and 25-year-old Erik Gustafsson agreed to a two-year contract extension. Thursday, the team agreed to a one-year deal with defenseman Jan Rutta, which reportedly is worth $2.25 million.
Rutta, 27, leads Blackhawks' defensemen with six goals this season, his first in the NHL. The Blackhawks signed him last summer after he received interest from multiple NHL teams.
Sounds like $2.25M AAV https://t.co/B8TRGt7q5c— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 8, 2018
Re-signing Gustafsson and Rutta are somewhat surprising moves considering how relatively inexperienced the Blackhawks' blue line is. Jordan Oesterle (66), Gustafsson (61), Rutta (43) and Carl Dahlstrom (11) all have less than a full season of NHL experience. Rutta, however, did play overseas in the Czech league for several seasons.
Outside of their inexperienced blue line, the Blackhawks are projected to have considerable cap space this summer after being up-against the NHL's salary cap more often than not in recent years.
By re-signing Gustafsson and Rutta, though, the Blackhawks now have seven defensemen under contract for the 2018-19 season. Five of those players will make $1 million or more.
And that doesn't include Gustav Forsling, who has a $872,500 cap hit and could be in that group next season. #Blackhawks— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) March 8, 2018
This is not to say that the Blackhawks will not sign a defenseman in free agency, but it does mean that they have slightly less cap space available for free agency. Ultimately, only time will tell whether or not they bring another defenseman aboard this summer.
Jan Rutta’s work on his off side is done. For now, anyway. He was back on his more comfortable and familiar right on Wednesday, partnered with Duncan Keith. But for the Czech defenseman who’s handled everything new well, it was one more adjustment that worked out.
Rutta moved to the left when Gustav Forsling suffered an upper-body injury against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 28. With Forsling expected to play against Philadelphia on Thursday night, coach Joel Quenneville switched up defensive pair combinations and moved Rutta back to the right.
The defensive changes didn’t end there on Tuesday: Connor Murphy, another guy who’s played on the right his entire career, was the latest to get a shot on the left side (pairing with Cody Franson). With eight defensemen healthy again, Michal Kempny and Jordan Oesterle look to be on the outside right now.
As for Rutta, the switch was fine but he’s happy to be back in his comfort zone.
“It definitely feels more natural for me. I mean, I didn’t mind playing on the left side, it was actually better than I thought,” Rutta said. “But it’s definitely for me to get back on the right side.”
In his short time with the Blackhawks Rutta has adjusted to everything well, from playing on the smaller North American ice to learning the Blackhawks’ system to switching sides. And any time you can show good versatility with a coach Joel Quenneville team, it doesn’t hurt you.
“I think it helps our team, helps our options, getting more familiar with that over the course of a game, a shift,” Quenneville said of Rutta’s switch. “Whether it’s an injury, a million things can happen where you have that option in your back pocket. It looks like it doesn’t change his game how he’s going to play, so that’s always a great sign. He handled it well so it’s a good option for us.”
Rutta has rolled with everything in his time here. He’s learned first-hand that, if necessary, you’ve got to adjust in a hurry. For him it worked and it will help him as long as he’s here. That said, he’s happy to be returning to what works best for him.
“Yeah, it was OK on the left side,” Rutta said “Of course I’m more comfortable on the right but the left was OK.”