Penguins Begin Retooling with Maatta Trade

The Pittsburgh Penguins have started shaking up the roster already this offseason, shipping defenseman Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. The move gives Pittsburgh some extra forward depth as well as extra cap space over the next few years.

It was no secret that the Penguins were looking to move a blueliner this offseason and Maatta was undoubtedly the most likely to find a new home. His trade value was the highest of any Penguins defenseman beyond Kris Letang and Justin Schultz, who should both be considered untouchable in trade talks right now. One thing the Penguins will miss from Maatta is his shot-blocking abilities; he finished third on the team with a career-high 116 blocked shots this season, though a full season of Erik Gudbranson should help make up for that.

Penguins Add Cap Flexibility

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Maatta trade for the Penguins was the team clearing up a significant chunk of cap space. The 24-year-old defender is due just under $4.1 million in each of the next three seasons while Kahun is making just $925,000 during the 2019-20 campaign before becoming a restricted free agent. This gives the Penguins $6.375 million to work with this offseason.

That money will likely go straight to re-signing restricted free agent skaters Marcus Pettersson and Teddy Blueger. Pettersson will replace Maatta as a full-time defenseman while Blueger impressed during his limited playing time with the NHL squad last season and should remain a key member of the bottom-six. Prior to the Maatta trade, it was unclear how the Penguins were going to manage their pending free agents, let alone test the open market to improve their group of skaters.

Pittsburgh Penguins Marcus Pettersson
Marcus Pettersson should see a much bigger role in the Penguins’ lineup with Olli Maatta being traded (Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports)

Looking beyond this offseason, Pittsburgh has some important free agents after the 2019-20 campaign as well, including Schultz, Kahun, Matt Murray, and Jared McCann. Again, clearing over $4 million from the books over the next few seasons will go a long way in being able to retain some key players, though the team may not be finished just yet. Over the next year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Penguins aggressively shop Jack Johnson or Gudbranson to free up more money.

Kahun Fits the Penguins’ Mold

Not only were the Penguins able to improve their financial situation, but the acquisition of Kahun could prove to be highly beneficial next season. The 23-year-old showed plenty of promise as a rookie last season, tallying 13 goals and 37 points in just over 14 minutes of ice time per game. He also earned a small role on Chicago’s power play, though he likely won’t chip in much on the penalty-killing units.

Chicago Blackhawks' Dominik Kahun New York Islanders Robin Lehner
Will Dominik Kahun be the latest great find for Jim Rutherford and the Penguins? (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Kahun could fill in as Pittsburgh’s new fourth-line center with Matt Cullen likely retiring. However, he is also well suited as a winger, giving the team plenty of flexibility, specifically in the bottom-six. The team will have plenty of lineup options, but right now, the forward lines could look something like this:

First line: Jared McCann – Sidney Crosby – Jake Guentzel

Second line: Bryan Rust – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel

Third line: Teddy Blueger – Nick Bjugstad – Patric Hornqvist

Fourth line: Zach Aston-Reece – Dominik Kahun – Dominik Simon

Of course, the Penguins will still be looking to make some small moves this offseason, but that’s a pretty strong lineup with a bottom-six that could give teams trouble with a combination of size and speed. In fact, Kahun could find more success in Pittsburgh’s system with a similar playing style to McCann; he plays a fast game, possesses a solid shot, and should have the ability to slot into any spot in the lineup.

Last season, Kahun led the Blackhawks with a strong 57.95 goals-for percentage during five-on-five play. That’s even more impressive considering Chicago posted a minus-24 goal differential for the season. That should help stabilize the Penguins’ bottom lines that were fairly inconsistent for most of last season while head coach Mike Sullivan continually shuffled things around hoping something would stick.

Both teams got what they needed in this deal. Pittsburgh should avoid a cap nightmare for at least another offseason while Chicago added a young, top-four defenseman that could benefit from a change of scenery. However, if Rutherford’s tenure with the Penguins has taught the league anything, it’s that he’s likely far from done shaking things up this offseason.