What Maatta trade means — and doesn’t mean — for Penguins future | TribLIVE.com
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Jonathan Bombulie

After the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins bludgeoned their way to the Stanley Cup Final, there was speculation heavy hockey was back in the NHL.

General managers all over the league soon would be reconstructing their rosters to copycat the way the big, bad Blues claimed the franchise’s first title.

If such a movement does begin, count Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford out.

“What Boston and St. Louis showed is there’s more than one way to win a Cup,” Rutherford said. “Over the last few years, it was speed and skill — and not to say these two teams didn’t have that — but they played a heavier, physical style and wore the other team down.

“But the main factor in those games is the goalie was the best player on the ice for whatever team won in the finals. That’s still the same main factor. You can talk heavier teams. You can talk about speed teams, but at the end of every game, for the most part, the goalie was the best player.”

Those comments must be music to the ears of two people in particular: Matt Murray and Dominik Kahun.

Murray, the Penguins’ two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, is entering the final year of his contract. As he thinks about a new deal, he should be pleased to know how much his GM appreciates the importance of goaltending.

Kahun, the 23-year-old forward acquired along with a fifth-round draft pick from Chicago for defenseman Olli Maatta on Saturday night, should be glad to know he is joining a team that values speed and skill. That’s the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder’s stock in trade.

Here are three other things that can be gleaned from Saturday’s deal.

IT DOES MEAN the Penguins have balanced their top eight defensemen with four lefties and four righties.

IT DOES NOT MEAN Rutherford isn’t considering further changes on defense.

“You don’t know what comes up,” Rutherford said. “We’ve got the right-left shot fixed, but are there players that are going to come up that make our defense better? If there is, we’ll do it. If there isn’t, we’re OK with our defense.”

Rutherford’s efforts to improve the defense last summer were not a success. Free-agent addition Jack Johnson, by most statistical measures, had a poor season.

The Penguins would be well served by getting an improved performance from Johnson or by moving him out if a trade partner could be found for a 32-year-old with four years left on a contract that pays him $3.25 million annually.

IT DOES MEAN the Penguins are no longer in salary cap jail.

IT DOES NOT MEAN they have the available finances to go on a free-agent shopping spree.

With Maatta’s $4 million salary off the books, the Penguins have almost $77.5 million committed to 10 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.

The projected salaries for restricted free agents Marcus Pettersson, Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger will run that total to a little more than $81 million. Add in a 13th forward — a free-agent addition, Adam Johnson or Finnish signing Oula Palve, for example — and it creeps over $82 million.

When the league announces the cap figure this week, it is expected to be in the neighborhood of $83 million. The Penguins couldn’t add much without subtracting first.

Rutherford could do just that, of course. A Phil Kessel trade, for instance, could save some money. But the Maatta trade didn’t get the Penguins well into the black. It just got them out of the red.

IT DOES MEAN Maatta was the most tradeable Penguins defenseman.

IT DOESN’T MEAN he is a bad player.

By all accounts, Maatta is coming off a down year. His shot-based stats were poor. He missed six weeks with a shoulder injury, and his one playoff appearance was a mess. Even with all that, he was still on the ice for more goals for than goals against at even strength.

Maatta took a lot of abuse from the fanbase for his lack of foot speed, but he usually used his smarts to offset his weaknesses. It would not be a surprise if Maatta thrives in the Western Conference.

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