The Tampa Bay Lightning have traded defenseman Slater Koekkoek and a 2019 5th round draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks. In return, the Lightning receive back right handed defenseman Jan Rutta and a 2019 7th round draft pick.
TRADE ALERT: The #Blackhawks have acquired defenseman Slater Koekkoek (AAV of $865,000) and a 2019 5th round pick from the Lightning in exchange for defenseman Jan Rutta and a 2019 7th round pick. pic.twitter.com/8IRmeaBKwM— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 11, 2019
Rumors once again surfaced a few days ago from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet in his 31 Thoughts that the Lightning were looking to trade Koekkoek. This isn’t the first time Koekkoek trade rumors have surfaced as there were other reports at the beginning of the season that the team was looking to trade him or Braydon Coburn to possibly make room at the time for Erik Cernak to make the team out of training camp.
The rumors have finally come to fruition with this trade. For Koekkoek, he’ll get a fresh start with the Chicago Blackhawks who recently traded Brandon Manning to the Edmonton Oilers. Chicago is a team that is always looking for ways to get under the cap with a lot of high priced veterans on the roster. Koekkoek should have every opportunity to earn ice time with Chicago now and for the next couple of seasons before he can become an unrestricted free agent.
Good for Slater Koekkoek to get a fresh start. He got passed on depth chart in TB, eighth guy in seven deep rotation. Cernak emergence didn’t help. Koekkoek handled frustrating situation with class #TBLightning— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) January 11, 2019
For the Lightning, they receive back a 28 year old right handed defenseman in Rutta. Rutta was never drafted by an NHL team and spent his career up through 2016-17 playing in the Czech leagues. Over 144 Czech league games, he had 20 goals and 60 point including 32 points in 46 games in 2016-17. He also put up 47 points in 169 games in the Czech 2nd league. He also assisted his team, Pirati Chomutov, to move from the second league to the first league twice in 2011-12 and 2014-15.
He signed an entry level contract with the Blackhawks prior to the 2017-18 season and put up six goals and 20 points in 57 games while averaging 19:15 TOI with two goals and two assists coming on the power play. For a 27 year old rookie, that was an impressive debut and earned him a one-year contract extension paying him $2.25 million. Rutta, however, hasn’t shone as brightly this season with just two goals and six points in 23 games before he was waived and assigned to the AHL. He was averaging 16:18 TOI.
Because of his cap hit, he counts for $1.225 million on the NHL Salary Cap while he remains in the AHL. He also has a European Assignment Clause in his contract which means that he could decide to return to Europe to play if he does not wish to remain in the AHL. However, coming to a Stanley Cup contender, and what that represents for him may be enough to convince him to stick it out for the rest of the season with the Lightning and Crunch.
For now, since he is already in the AHL, the Lightning will be able to assign him to the Syracuse Crunch. If he is needed for call-ups, he provides a better option in the minors than veteran Cameron Gaunce. Because Rutta has passed through waivers, he also would be eligible to come up for up to 30 cumulative days on the roster or play in 10 NHL games before needing to be placed on waivers again.
From an advanced statistics point of view, Rutta doesn’t have great possession numbers putting up a Corsi For % that was 1.81 and 1.94% worse than his teammates with Chicago the past two seasons. His expected goals metric has been negative during his time in the NHL. When compared to Koekkoek, the numbers are a bit back and forth between the two. This year though, Rutta has a better CF60 and CA60 number than Koekkoek, and both numbers are down from his 2017-18 numbers. Both have also had some PDO luck this season with both being a few points over 100 indicating save and shooting luck being on their side when they’re on the ice.
Ultimately for the Lightning, this deal let’s them maintain their defensive depth while making room for the return of J.T. Miller from injured reserve in the next week or so. We’ve seen since the 2014 playoff run that the front office really values depth on the blue line after having been burned by a lack of depth during 2013-14. On paper at least, Rutta doesn’t appear to be either an upgrade or a downgrade for the team. What he does bring is more flexibility since he has already passed through waivers and can be kept in the AHL for the time being until such time that he is needed when an injury occurs on the blue line.