The Tampa Bay Lightning announced on Friday afternoon that they have re-signed right handed defender Jan Rutta to a one year extension worth $1.3 million.
The Lightning acquired Rutta during the 2018-2019 season in exchange for Slater Koekkoek. Rutta started his time with the Lightning organization in Syracuse before eventually being called up to Tampa due to injuries. He remained with the team and played regularly through their short playoff stint.
We covered Rutta’s season in depth a couple days ago here on the blog and you can read that here.
At a high level, he was more than serviceable depth. With the Lightning facing an extremely tight cap situation this summer, re-signing him makes sense because he’s affordable and provides the front office more flexibility with the rest of the roster. Getting him inked means the team now has five NHL defenders under contract for next season. He joins Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh, and Erik Cernak in that capacity.
With Rutta signed, Lightning now need to find at least two and probably three more NHL defenders to have enough depth to make another attempt at a deep playoff run. They will still likely bring back at least one of their remaining pending unrestricted free agents. Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, and Dan Girardi will all hit the open market on July 1st.
According to Evolving Hockey’s contract projections, the most likely deal for Rutta was three years at $1.8 million. The next closest option was one year at 955k. By that standard, this looks like a slight overpay but hardly one worth being concerned about. It’s possible the front office wanted to get this deal done early to fill at least one of the roster holes and was willing to overpay by a couple hundred thousand dollars to get that done.
The deal does suggest that the Lightning view Rutta as an NHL player next season. It would be unusual to see a player with this salary in the AHL so expect to see Rutta playing regularly on the bottom pair or possibly sliding into the 7th defender role depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out. At this price, he could be holding down the fort until Cal Foote is ready at some point next season.
While re-signing Rutta isn’t the most exciting move the team could make, it’s a prudent one. He’s posted good numbers for most of his NHL career and represents affordable depth for a team that will need that as its stars continue to command justifiably high salaries.