It's been an interesting career for Olli Maatta. A concussion his draft year lowered his stock and the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to select him 22nd overall. That's proven to be a steal, as the 19-year old made the NHL team out of training camp in 2013-14 and a played a strong role on the Finnish Olympic team.
As rewarding as the first professional season would be, his follow-up year in 2014-15 would be painful. Maatta was limited to just 20 games and underwent shoulder surgeries before and after the season, also had thyroid cancer removed surgically and contracted the mumps along the way. Nightmare scenario.
Luckily this season, Maatta has bounced back, especially since getting healthy after a weird, unlucky injury of getting shoved into an open bench door. Maatta's a regular on the top pair with Kris Letang and the two have blossomed under the regime of Mike Sullivan:
The two most important columns are the GF% and CF% for "When on Ice Together". When Maatta plays with the top line of Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist they're taking 55% of the shots and scoring 66% of the goals. That's tremendous work by that 5-man unit and really fueled the strong play that Pittsburgh has had over the past 2+ months.
Luckily, it shouldn't be that tough of a negotiation between Maatta and the Pens. There is a very set market in the recent past for young, stud defensemen coming off their entry-level contracts already as top 2- top 4 types. These players are among the most valuable in the sport and around the league teams have moved to keep these players for a good, long time.
|John Klingberg (DAL)||$4.25m||7|
|Adam Larsson (NJD)||$4.16m||6|
|Jonas Brodin (MIN)||$4.16m||6|
|Cam Fowler (ANA)||$4.0m||5|
This is the neighborhood that a Maatta extension should be in. Frankly, it's good for player and team, the player is going to be guaranteed $25+ million dollars, the team is going to lock in a rate for the foreseeable future and reap the benefits of having a really good player on a reasonable cap hit as years go by. That Klingberg deal might be one of the best non-ELC contracts in the whole league already.
We've now seen Maatta play 47 games this season, his twice surgically repaired shoulder appears to be, um, shouldering the duties of playing just fine. He's returned to form and is playing well on the Pens top line. This doesn't have to be an urgent item, but for the context of setting the Pens salary structure and fitting Maatta in, it's an important one to take care of.
This article hasn't focused on the Pens 2016-17 salary cap and how a ~$4.0 million Maatta salary fits, because there are too many moving pieces to give a clear outlook. It is true that Pittsburgh has a lot spoken for next season with salaries on the books, but that could change. They'll save $500k next season if Chicago buys out Rob Scuderi, for instance. It's possible they also move a veteran with a salary (Trevor Daley, Ian Cole) or make another unforeseen move to save space.
Regardless of that hypothetical jockeying to make it fit, a player like Maatta is in a different class because he's a 21 year old core piece of the puzzle. Guys like that you sign and make a priority and then work the pieces in accordingly.
The Penguins have trade decisions to make this month before the deadline, but one fairly easy one should be to extend Maatta for a long time.