Tag Archives: Olli Maatta

Unsung Heroes

Overtime, Game 7; these are the games as hockey fans we love. Thursday night, the Penguins defeated the Senators 3-2 in double overtime to clinch their bid to the Stanley Cup Finals vs the Nashville Predators. The game winning goal coming from 37-year-old Chris Kunitz, which was his second goal of the night. This entire playoff, and regular season has been filled with unsung heroes. Yes, we have the three-headed monster in Malkin, Crosby, and Kessel leading the way in playoff points. But there are a few guys pulling some of their own weight. Names that stand out are Jake Guentzel, Chris Kunitz, Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta, and Brian Dumoulin.

 

Jake Guentzel- 2016-17 Regular Season– 40 GP | 16 G | 17 A       2016-17 Playoffs– 19 GP | 9 G | 7 A

What an amazing rookie campaign Jake has put together. Those who watched Jake play in WBS before being called up knew the type of impact he could have in the NHL, and what an impact he has made. Some may ask why he made this list of surprise players these playoffs, but I don’t think anyone expected a player with 40 NHL games to be in the top 5 of playoff scoring. Not to mention 3 GWG this postseason.

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Chris Kunitz- 2016-17 Regular Season- 71 GP | 9 G | 20 A |         2016-17 Playoffs- 14 GP| 2 G| 3 A |     

Chris Kunitz, what a guy. This is a player that Penguins fans have wanted to be dealt out of town for the last three years at least, and I am guilty of criticizing him as well. But with Kuntiz you know what type of player you are going to get. He’s the type of guy to battle in front of the net, finish his checks, and hey, even score goals when reunited with Crosby. Kuntiz has scored the most important goal of these playoffs so far (2OT ECF) so how could he not be a hero?

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Bryan Rust- 2016-17 Regular Season- 40 GP | 12 G | 4 A |            2016-17 Playoffs- 17 GP | 6 A | 1 A |

Rust is a player that really emerged last season when the Pens were faced with injuries and he made a similar impact that Guentzel is making this year. Rust is another guy that will finish his hit and grind in front of the net, but also comes up with some very timely goals. This post season, Rust has 2 GWG those goals being Game 5 vs CBJ, and game 7 vs Washington. Rust plays big in big games, so keep an eye out for him the Stanley Cup Finals.

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Olli Maatta2016-17 Regular Season- 55 GP| 1 G | 6 A |              2016-17 Playoffs19 GP | 2 G | 5 A |

Maatta has been criticized time and time again, and granted he has not been the player the Penguins expected, he has held his own. Some unfortunate injuries have slowed Maatta’s growth, but minor things such as foot speed seem to be an issue for him. To Maatta’s credit he has played well this season, especially vs the Sens. Scoring two goals in as many games, and one being a GWG in the 7-0 victory, Maatta seems to be finding his way as of late.

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Honorable Mention: Brian Dumoulin- Dumo gets my honorable mention for this list. Next to Ian Cole, he may be the best defensive defenseman the Pens have. Logging 20+ minutes in almost every playoff game, he is faced with the task of shutting down teams’ top offensive lines. He is a valuable player to this Pens roster that often goes under the radar.

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This Penguins team is filled with superstars as we all know, but there are a ton of depth/role players that are just as important as Crosby or Malkin are. Role players play a key part in winning teams, and the Penguins have built their team using high end role guys. They played a huge part in the 2016 Stanley Cup Run, and will again be a key factor in the 2017 Stanley Cup run.

Olli Maatta Beginning To Return To Form

The Pens are coming off a 7-0 blow out against the Senators notching back to back winning efforts.

Notice that the defense is getting a scoring touch here. Olli Maatta himself has scored the first goals in the past few games. But man has he come up big for the Pens during the playoffs.

He has been playing solid minutes for the team and remains effective. Ever since Maatta was diagnosed with cancer and returned, he hasn’t been the same.

Before cancer, Maatta was an obvious top 4 defenseman in the NHL. After returning he has struggled to produce points and help the team.

But with all the injuries during this stretch he has stepped up along with the defense as a whole. But Maatta seems to be finding the same confidence he had during his rookie season.

He is finally living up to his contract and helping his team.

If the Pens do repeat as champs they need impressive play by the injured defensive core. Maatta will be a huge part of this moving on as long as his teammates.

So next time your watching the Pens make sure you’re watching the defense closely and especially Maatta. Who is starting to transform back into the top pairing defenseman the Penguins wanted him to be.

Will Injuries Hamper The Pens’ Chances?

The Penguins are again bitten by the injury bug.

It seems year after year the Penguins must overcome these injuries. But it’s even worse this year after stars like Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have been out longer term.

Now with depth almost not there, how do the Pens overcome the injuries? Well that’s the question to be answered. The Penguins can also be lucking out with this amount of injuries, which could catapult them to back to back championships. And here’s how.

All of the current injuries are expected to be healed up by playoff time. With Letang and Malkin well rested, they could energize the team. Also if the Sid and the Kids line come back where they left off then they’ll be the most dangerous line in the league.

With Nick Bonino heating up as we head down the stretch and Carl Hagelin coming back before playoffs then the HBK line shall be excellent again.

The bottom line is still playing well even though they’re injured.

Cullen has been playing very well and some could argue better than he did last year.

This team is going to be an offensive powerhouse when the injuries are all healed. And I don’t believe they’ll be rusty when they return but rather rested.

The defense on the other hand will be getting Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta, and Letang back, which they’ll be well rested and ready to go. With these key defenseman coming back, they’ll add great depth and much needed help on the powerplay. 

As you can see the Pens aren’t in that much trouble when it comes to the playoffs. They’re adding experience to the young players from the Baby Pens. But when the playoffs come around they’ll be rested and ready for another title run. So all of these injuries could just be a great thing for the team. 

Taking A Look At The Expansion Draft

The trade deadline has come and gone and the picture has been painted much clearer on what the Penguins may do with the expansion draft this off season.

According to league rules, all teams have the option to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie. The other, more unlikely option, is to protect 8 skaters and a goalie. This option is more likely if a team has a lot of depth on defense and would rather protect four defensemen and risk the loss of a forward. I don’t expect many teams to take this option.

Impending unrestricted free agents (UFA) will not need protected. Teams can simply wait until after the lists of players the expansion franchise, Vegas Golden Knights, to sign their players. The Penguins will have a few players fall under that category.

Penguins Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)

  • Chris Kunitz
  • Trevor Daley
  • Ron Hainsey
  • Nick Bonino
  • Matt Cullen
  • Kevin Porter
  • Garrett Wilson
  • Cameron Gaunce
  • David Warsofsky
  • Chad Ruhwedel
  • Tom Sestito
  • Mark Streit
  • Frank Corrado

The bottom six on that list would not typically be players an expansions franchise would look at with golden eyes. Those types of players could be signed through free agency.

The first five, however, are legitimate NHL talents who have played in the NHL on a consistent basis. Hainsey, Kunitz and Cullen are both reaching the ends of the careers and none of the trio would likely be taken unless the Golden Knights were in a cap bind and needed to fill out their roster. Daley and Bonino are both guys who could serve as great additions for a team just starting out. Daley being capable of a top four defenseman role has been proven over the past two seasons that he’s spent in Pittsburgh. Bonino is a third line center on a good team but could serve higher if a team’s depth needed it.

None of these players will be available to Vegas unless they hit the open market due to their contract status, as previously mentioned.

Penguins Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

  • Justin Schultz
  • Brian Dumoulin
  • Frank Corrado
  • Derrick Pouliot

Of the two lists, this one is more important. The UFA’s don’t need to be retained as they will not be under contract to be drafted by Vegas. RFA’s, however, can still be drafted because with an RFA contract, that player is still considered team property. The Penguins won’t need to be worried much about Corrado as he should come cheap and won’t be an attractive option to many teams.

Schultz and Dumoulin are much different stories. The Penguins have enjoyed stellar play from both defensemen over the past two seasons and will need to resign both at season’s end. If presented, Vegas would be foolish not to look at one of these two guys as the player they’d acquire from Pittsburgh, so the Penguins must be careful in that regard.

Who Should The Penguins Protect?

The Penguins will take the 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie model. I would expect it to look something like this:

Forwards

  • Sidney Crosby
  • Evgeni Malkin
  • Phil Kessel
  • Bryan Rust
  • Patric Hornqvist
  • Carl Hagelin
  • Jake Guentzel

Defensemen

  • Kris Letang
  • Brian Dumoulin
  • Justin Schultz

Goalie

  • Matt Murray

Any player who has a “No-Trade Clause” or a “No-Movement Clause” is automatically protected and counts as one of your protected players.

Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel follow this description among the Penguins forwards and take up three of the seven slots at forward.

Looking at the rest of the depth, a guy like Hornqvist must be protected. He is a very special player and one gritty presence the Penguins can’t afford to lose. He will be protected. Rust and Guentzel are two young forwards with top six roles potentially awaiting them in the future. Both have already seen time in the top six already which means the Penguins will be needing to protect them.

That leaves one more player needing to be protected. Conor Sheary would be my pick except, under some circumstance I’m unaware of, Sheary is already protected. This leaves my next choice to be Hagelin. Hagelin isn’t a player who’s produced on the scoresheet before as his career high in goals is 17 with New York in consecutive seasons during 2013-14′ and 14′-15′. He’s still a scary opposition when he steps on the ice. His speed coupled with his vision makes him a scary commodity for teams to face and the seventh person I’d protect to finish out my forwards.

The defensemen the Penguins will have to protect and not protect could be something Vegas looks at.

Letang has a no-movement clause and is the Penguins best defenseman. There is no debate there. He’s protected regardless. The logjam only begins there.

The Penguins have eight capable NHL blueliners on their roster right now. Some listed above will become unrestricted free agents and won’t get protected. The options in need of protection are Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole. This is also the order I’d consider when protecting them.

It’s been a blessing watching Dumoulin progress into the player he has become. The Penguins have a quality shutdown defenseman in Dumoulin. He doesn’t factor in much at all in the goal scoring department as he’s gone 128 games without scoring a goal. He’s got great foot speed and can move the puck very well though. He does get factor in on goals as he has 12 assists this season. He went over half of last season without a single penalty minute which makes him a very disciplined hockey player.

Schultz has been the biggest blessing of 2016-2017 for Pittsburgh. He has completely rejuvenated his career with the Penguins and is playing Norris type of hockey right now after being a complete afterthought in Edmonton. The third round pick Jim Rutherford gave up to acquired Schultz was brought back in when the Penguins got rid of Beau Bennett.

Through Monday, Schultz has put up a staggering 12 goals and 46 points in 64 games this season. He’s showing no signs of slowing down, either. He loves Pittsburgh and will 110% be a Penguin next season when the Penguins sign him to a lucrative extension.

Cole and Maatta are solid players. Cole is a guy that will likely be passed upon as a draft option, which is a huge plus for the Penguins. If I’m Vegas, I am looking at taking a young guy like Maatta. He is a former first round pick who has shown signs of being a good NHL defenseman. Injuries have derailed his leg speed, something which makes him a outcast on defense in the Penguins system. Despite the slower player he has become, Maatta is a +17 (through Monday) and was a +27 last season.

The goalie situation has pretty much sorted itself out. Murray has clearly become the starter as the younger option and proving he can play in the big time after winning the Cup last season. Marc-Andre Fleury will likely waive his no movement clause to allow the Penguins the chance to protect Murray.

Who Does Vegas Select?

The whole point to this article was to answer this question.

Let’s say Fleury continues playing at the level he has played at over the past couple weeks and sees some action in the playoffs and handles it well. He potentially could be sent to another team via trade if he is able to play well enough to get some value back under his name. He carries a reasonable $5.75 million cap hit and a team looking for a goalie fix right away may take the chance to jump on him.

If no team trades for Fleury, he likely will waive his clause and make himself available for Vegas to scoop up and gives them a franchise goaltender right away as he’d be the best available option for the Golden Knights.

Assuming Fleury is moved beforehand, I believe Olli Maatta would be the one to go.

Essentially, Vegas’ two best choices will be Cole and Maatta. There will be plenty of Ian Cole’s to pick from on other team’s rosters. No offense to Cole of course, but the attraction of a very young Maatta under a top four defenseman’s salary and a change of scenery could be what both Vegas and Maatta are looking for.

The June expansion draft is going to bite the Penguins harder than most teams as they will lose a valuable member of their roster. No matter who is selected, the Penguins are a deep enough team to replace that player with someone who can produce the same, if not more, than Vegas’ selection.

COLUMN: Make The Move, Jim

We are fortunate to have a general manager who’s as good at his job as Jim Rutherford is. He turned a lackluster roster with a “bare cupboard” of prospects into a Stanley Cup champion with prospects that were as vital to a run as Sidney Crosby.

Rutherford did that by acquiring guys such as Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley and getting rid of guys like David Perron and Rob Scuderi to do so. Both Hagelin and Daley made this team faster and really began driving home what Mike Sullivan really envisioned this team to be. A fast, relentless, up-tempo team. His philosophy hasn’t changed.

So how do you make a team that’s looked very flat and lackluster at times faster? You add more speed.

I’ll bet my house the Penguins REALLY like Avalanche center Matt Duchene. He all but epitomizes what the Penguins are. He’s a speedy, relentless, up-tempo forward that can score with ease.

The Penguins have sent their entire front office short of Jim Rutherford to Avalanche games to watch and it’s pretty clear what their intentions are. They like Matt Duchene.

A team fortunate enough to have both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin only has a window as long as their careers last. It’s worth trading away your future to acquire a guy like Duchene.

Can you imagine a roster next year in which your star players are Crosby, Malkin, Phil Kessel, Duchene, Kris Letang, and Matt Murray? And that’s just your stars. We are talking “3-in-6” type aspirations. Duchene would be under contract for the rest of this season and the two following seasons.

Duchene wouldn’t be an easy get. You’d have to part with pieces that take away significantly from your future. I’ll take a gander at what it may take.

Pittsburgh Trades: Olli Maatta, Eric Fehr, and a 2017 first round pick.

Colorado Trades: Matt Duchene.

The Avalanche are on pace for one of the worst seasons in NHL history. They have pieces they can unload to gear for a rebuild. Trading Olli Maatta to a new team could really help his development. He’s a system defenseman. His diminished speed could play into Colorado’s advantage. It gives the Avalanche a very good defenseman that, if he really blossoms, is a steal at $4 million. The Penguins like and believe in Maatta. He is likely to miss the regular season but the Avalanche are already geared towards making a run next year. Maatta will be ready for next season.

Obviously, the first round pick would be very enticing to the Avalanche. It gives them two in the upcoming draft to build around Nathan MacKinnon, their obvious franchise player. Eric Fehr would just be a throw-in veteran to get a few million off of the cap to make their core affordable.

The Penguins would get their man in Duchene who brings loads of scoring talent. Just think on this line: Hagelin-Duchene-Kessel. That’s the fastest line in NHL history. I don’t care what anyone says. The Penguins would be a very scary team.

The ball is in your court, Jim. Forget the future for now. Crosby and Malkin have Stanley Cups to win. If you can bring a superstar like Duchene in to complement Crosby and Malkin, you take the chance and run. Make the move, Jim.

Gabriel Landeskog to Pittsburgh?

In the recent weeks there have been rumors that Colorado Avalanche captain, Gabriel Landeskog, has been placed on the trading block. In typical Jim Rutherford fashion, Pittsburgh is at the top of the possible landing spots for Landeskog. So, what will it take for GMJR to pull off yet another block bluster trade?

Landeskog, who is 24, and in the prime in his career. This deal would be a no brainier for the Pens. First in 2012, he was named captain of the Avalanche, and at that point in time he was the youngest captain in NHL history. Landeskog has proven his leadership role in Colorado, but the team seem to be going downhill, rather than upwards. From the outside looking in, it appears the Avalanche organization are looking towards, Nathan Mackinnon, as the future now. Landeskog has 7 goals, and 6 assist so far this season. Overwhelmingly having a down season, not just the captain, but the entire team; dead last in the NHL overall standings, some may argue it is time for a major change in Colorado.

This trade is not unrealistic simply because Landeskog has a reasonable contract to work with. With a young player, who is already a leader, with a $5.5 million cap , for 4 years… this is due able. The question is, who do you give up? Immediately the first player that comes to mind would be Olli Maatta. The Avalanche main problems seem to come from the back end up, starting between the pipes. Maatta seems to make the most seance for both teams. For Pittsburgh, Maatta has had a up and down career here. At times he appears to be a top paring D-Man. On the other hand, his foot speed at times does not seem to be up to par. I believe with an entire 82 game season, Maatta can improve to be a top D-Man. Maatta, making a bit over $4 million over the next 6 years is a very reasonable cap hit for any team, especially with the potential he truly does have. In addition to, Maatta, a player like Eric Fehr could possibly be added to sweeten the deal a bit. Fehr has been in and out of the lineup for the Pens this season (2016-17), but could fit well in the Avalanche lineup as a role player who can also net some goals in his own respect. With a $2 million cap hit, I would want that $2 million to be in the lineup, not sitting in the stands watching. With just those two players it makes the trade for Landeskog possible money wise.

I just hope whatever happens the Penguins do not over pay. Is this trade necessary? Probably not, but Landeskog could help the Pens with another Stanley Cup run this postseason.

Monday Morning Thoughts: Not Pleased With Hagelin


So I’ve decided that every Monday morning, I will put out a weekly series giving my takes on the Penguins with some opinions. Starting next week, I’ll also address some tweets I find throughout the week regarding the Penguins. I hope to have a staff member or two helping me and giving their tales weekly as well.

– Of course, Carl Hagelin is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL currently. I’m very displeased with his play as of late. He’s having a rough time getting on the scoresheet and that’s something he’s always struggled with. But he was playing on a line with Sidney Crosby and hadn’t seemed to be doing enough so he was demoted. The line was pretty inevitable. One of the fastest skaters in the league playing with the best player in the world. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working.

– I’ve been kind of wrong about Conor Sheary. After watching him in the playoffs last year, aside from the Tampa Bay series, I didn’t see much to say that Sheary should’ve stayed on Crosby’s line. Sheary has actually thrived playing with Sid. He drives play well and compliments the speed of Crosby perfectly. He’s a small guy and doesn’t seem to have the finesse to score tons of goals, but I’m completely okay with what I’ve seen out of him.

– Right now, it’s pretty obvious that Matt Murray is playing out of his mind right now. Or is it really within his capabilities? I really think we are seeing the type of play from Matt Murray that we are going to see forever. He really is just that good. He’s so poised and big in the net that it’s tough for teams to find space behind him. I’m a huge Marc-Andre Fleury fan but if the day soon comes where the Penguins plan to lean 100% towards Matt Murray, I won’t be any less confident leaving the goaltending of the team in Murray’s hands full time. Speaking of MAF…

– This dude’s still got it. That sequence of 5 minutes in OT on Saturday when he had to make six saves and none of them were at all ‘gimmes’ showed me all I need to know. Flower doesn’t plan on giving up that net easily even though the odds are stacked against him. Say what you want about the lack of defense or the not clearing of the rebounds around his net, but Flower has struggled. He’ll bounce back. He always does. Even though it’ll be tough for either goalie to get into rhythm, if both goalies can hit some kind of stride this team will enjoy themselves a nice little ride.

– You’ve got to respect the early season role reversal that Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel have enjoyed. Crosby is scoring at an elite rate (28% of his shots have gone in to be exact). That’s a highly unsustainable number even for the best player in the world. Kessel is dishing out assists like no other. I’ve seen tweets bashing Kessel for his lack of goals this year. Who cares? He’s still showing up on the scoresheet and the team is winning. I’ll pay Kessel to score 4 goals and push this team to wins as opposed to paying him that much to not show up on the scoresheet and lose. Back off, he’s a Stanley Cup Champion after all.

– “Goodness gracious Geno.” I often find myself saying this more often than not lately after one of these patented Geno penalties hes taken throughout his entire career. It’s nothing new. A pissed off Geno is a Geno that’s fun to watch. He’s capable of taking over games. I know this was an unpopular opinion with some people when I tweeted it a few days ago. If his penalties continue to hurt the team…do you consider healthy scratching him? Obviously it’ll never happen because of the negative rapport it would have throughout the room. But it’s something that would piss Geno off. I guarantee he’d respond with a hat trick the next game.

– One guy that’s flying under the radar is Olli Maatta. Maatta is one of those players that, if you’re not hearing his name, he’s doing a fine job. Ever since the early part of the season, I’ve rarely heard his name spoken. He’s finding himself again and playing a lot better with Trevor Daley. He’s a guy I want to see playing exceptional hockey to the point where he gets more recognition. But with the type of player he is, he’ll never get recognition. You can bet your bottom dollar he will get negativity his way if he plays a bad game, though.

– Justin Schultz is a guy I’ve quietly fallen in love with. He’s such a sound defenseman who can skate and generate offensive opportunity. He deserves time on the top powerplay. It’s never easy with the star power the Penguins have and they value Letang’s work in that spot, but I like what Schultz brings. Him and Ian Cole have meshed very well together to create a nice, reliable shutdown third-pairing. Schultz came from an Edmonton team that makes high draft picks look like me trying to skate. It doesn’t go well. Given the right style and playing conditions, Schultz thrives.

LTP Three Stars of the Week:

  1. Sidney Crosby
  2. Matt Murray
  3. Phil Kessel