Tim Benz: Even Olli Maatta defenders should endorse this Penguins trade
My first reactions to Saturday’s trade of Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta to Chicago for forward Dominik Kahun were:
• What am I missing?
• Are the Penguins absorbing a lot of the salary?
• Is this part one of a two-part deal?
So far, the answers to those questions appear to be:
• Not yet.
I’m not going to be one of those people you might see on Twitter who hears about a Penguins trade and bends over backward to heap praise on the newly acquired player as if I’ve watched him since Day 1 in skates.
I’ve seen Kahun play twice — against the Penguins — and I don’t particularly remember him standing out, with no points in either game.
But after doing some homework, based on the profile of the guy, I’m struggling to find a significant flaw to this trade by general manager Jim Rutherford.
By acquiring Kahun, the Penguins get faster, more versatile, a lot less expensive and a little younger.
Kahun (23) is only a year younger than Maatta (24). But he has a lot less wear and tear on his body at this level, having played just one full season in the NHL. Meanwhile, Maatta has endured a slew of injuries since he entered the league in 2013.
Kahun is going to be a restricted free agent at the end of the year, so he’d be easy to part with if he doesn’t work out in Pittsburgh. And he could be relatively cheap to retain if it does. Kahun is in the final year of his entry-level contract. Without considering performance bonuses, he counts $925,000 against the cap.
Maatta is locked in at $4,083,333 per year against the salary cap through the 2021-22 season. Kahun is said to be quick up front, whereas Maatta’s raw footspeed on the back end was not a strength of his game.
Kahun can play all three forward positions, as opposed to the growing belief that the Penguins could put Maatta only on the left side of the blue line.
So maybe Kahun can slot in next to Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. Or, perhaps he can center a third or fourth line. Playing with high-leverage linemates isn’t a foreign concept to Kahun. In Chicago, he often saw time with Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat.
Last season, shot suppression was not Kahun’s strongest attribute. That wasn’t all on him, though. The Blackhawks as a team allowed the second-most shots per game in the league. And Kahun has a reputation of being a decent two-way player.
Despite missing the playoffs, the Blackhawks averaged 32.5 shots per game. That was 12th in the NHL and just 0.8 shots fewer per game than the Penguins. So he can play at the pace Mike Sullivan, Jim Rutherford and some of the higher-end Penguins teammates would like to play.
Something else to note: The impact of what Kahun does in terms of point production doesn’t happen with the aid of being on the power play. His scoring normally occurs at even strength. And he seems to be good at it.
Two stat-based notes on Kahun.
1. 35 of his 37 points were even strength and 29 of those 35 were goals or first assists. His numbers aren't soft.
2. When he was on the ice at even strength, CHI outscored opponents 54-44 (+10). When he wasn't, they were outscored 177-158 (-19).
— Jonathan Bombulie (@BombulieTrib) June 16, 2019
Based on what we saw against the Islanders in the playoffs, the Penguins could use some help in that capacity.
By the way, all of this praise is coming from someone who has spent a lot of time being a defender of Maatta. Despite being a part of two Stanley Cup winners, Maatta has been a frequent target of critics within the fanbase. I’ve never felt he deserved many of the slings and arrows he’s gotten.
But the bottom line on his status in Pittsburgh heading into 2019-20 is that he wasn’t a sure bet to always be in a top-six group of defensemen that features the likes of Jack Johnson and Eric Gudbranson. Even if he was, with Maatta’s health concerns over the years, could you count on him to be on the ice on a regular basis?
If you are looking for negatives to the trade, they exist. Kahun may have just been an average player on a bad team who played with above-average players and who got his points based on volume.
Also, Maatta is only 24. He could improve and find the game that he flashed early in his career. Look at how Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley discovered their games when they arrived in Pittsburgh. Schultz was about the same age. Daley was much older.
Plus, if you are like me and like Maatta better than Johnson or Gudbranson, you would’ve preferred to see one of them shipped out instead. I suppose that could still happen, although it’s much less likely now.
However, on its surface, this appears to be a trade Rutherford was wise to make.