Penguins re-sign defenseman Chad Ruhwedel for 2 years
Which defensemen will fill the top six spots on the blue line next season remains an open question for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The picture at the bottom end of the depth chart, however, cleared up significantly on Thursday.
Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel agreed to a new two-year deal with an average annual salary of $700,000, the team announced. Ruhwedel has been the Penguins’ seventh or eighth defenseman for much of the past three seasons.
“I knew deep down that I wanted to come back to Pittsburgh,” Ruhwedel said. “I had a good experience there over the last three years. It’s a great organization to be a part of, so I’m glad we got things done early. Just a little piece of mind.”
Ruhwedel, 29, would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He chose to stay in a familiar spot with the Penguins, where he played 96 games in the regular season and 18 more in the playoffs the last three years, rather than trying to find a team where more consistent playing time would be likely.
“That definitely came up in talks with my agent,” Ruhwedel said. “We weighed all those options. I could have chased other teams that are opportunities, but we’re pretty happy with Pittsburgh. Obviously want to get the playing time up as much as possible in any situation, but we wanted to come back and we’re glad that we made that happen.”
The return of Ruhwedel will give the Penguins eight defensemen on one-way NHL contracts.
Because the Penguins are facing a salary cap crunch and because general manager Jim Rutherford has stated his desire to make changes after a disappointing season, it’s highly unlikely that all eight will remain with the team through the summer. Olli Maatta and Jack Johnson, who were both scratched during a first-round playoff exit to the New York Islanders, are the top candidates to move on.
However that shakes out, the Penguins will be glad to have Ruhwedel in residence when he’s eventually needed. Rutherford has said that he is impressed by Ruhwedel’s ability to sit out long stretches as a healthy scratch, then come back into the lineup with minimal rust.
Ruhwedel said he appreciates that compliment.
“It feels really good,” Ruhwedel said. “When they express their interest in me and their appreciation for the role I play for the team, it’s always really nice to hear. It feels good to be coming back to a team that wants you. I embrace the role and just try to do everything I can to help the team move forward and obviously try to get some personal success along the way.”
Ruhwedel missed the last two months of the season, including playoffs, with an upper-body injury. He said he was cleared to return a few days after the Penguins were eliminated by the Islanders.
“I’m glad to be back to healthy and training at 100 percent so I’ll be fully ready for training camp,” he said.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .