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Kiitos, Olli Maatta

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“Kiitos” means “Thank you” in Finnish. Kiitos for everything, Olli.

2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As an NHL player, the only thing Olli Maatta has ever known is the Pittsburgh Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh. It’s where he was drafted in 2012, where he broke onto the scene in 2013, where battled cancer in 2014, and where he won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017. Simply put, Maatta saw a lot during his six seasons wearing a Penguins uniform.

That portion of his career has now come to a close, traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday in exchange for speedy forward Dominik Kahun and a 5th round draft pick. This is a move that has always felt inevitable, it just depended on whether general manager Jim Rutherford was willing to pull the trigger.

It was a move people have talked about for years finally come to fruition. Overall, the trade received positive reviews from fans, mostly because it signals a shift back to a speed focused game that helped the Penguins win back-to-back titles. Maatta had also become a popular whipping boy over the years when things were going wrong on the blue line. He was never the fastest skater on the team, and it seemed his style contrasted with what the Penguins were trying to do. In the end, Rutherford made the trade, and an important piece of the Penguins last five plus years is now gone.

Maatta burst onto scene in 2013-14, when he was kept on the roster out of camp for a tryout as a junior player. He played so well that general manager Ray Shero had no choice but to keep him on the roster and it was a decision that paid off. In his rookie season, he played 72 games, scored a career high nine goals and recorded a career high 29 points. Unfortunately for Maatta, that was the high point of his time in Pittsburgh.

In the years that followed, Maatta encountered a number of health issues that seemed to take a toll on his body, which in turn affected his play on the ice. In 2014, we underwent treatment for thyroid cancer and remarkably returned to the ice two weeks later. Other injuries that kept him out of the lineup for an extended time include a concussion, several upper and lower body injuries, and most recently a shoulder injury this season that pushed him out of the lineup for six weeks.

He was able to match his career high 29 points in 2017-18 when he played all 82 games for the first and only time in his career, but that season seems like an outlier compared to his others. While Maatta will mostly be remembered for his injuries, there is something else you should keep in mind when discussing his legacy in Pittsburgh; the integral role he played in the 2016 & 2017 Stanley Cup winning teams.

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

His performance during the 2016 Cup run wasn’t much to write home about, 18GP/0G/7A, but after everything he had been through in seasons prior, perhaps nobody on the ice in San Jose that evening deserved to lift the Stanley Cup more than Maatta.

While 2016 may not blow people out of the water, his impact on the 2017 cannot be understated. Without Kris Letang at their disposal, the Penguins relied on a M*A*S*H unit blue line to carry them to another title, and Maatta was a key piece.

He played in all 25 playoff games that year, posting a career high two goals and eight points, all the while playing over 20 minutes a night. It was and remains his best playoff performance of his career, and came when the Penguins needed him most.

Both of his playoff goals came during the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators in consecutive games. First was his last minute goal in a must win Game 4 in Ottawa that opened the scoring:

Not pretty, just effective.

His second goal came in Game 5 a few days later, another opening tally in what turned out to be a Penguins rout by the time the final horn sounded.

Turned out to be the game winner as well.

What Maatta did after the Penguins won that 2017 Stanley Cup in Nashville, will be etched in Penguins lore forever. Riding alongside fellow defenseman Justin Schultz in the Stanley Cup parade back in Pittsburgh, Maatta got smoked. Just absolutely annihilated.

It was amazing theater to watch play out in real time. It was crazy, we created a special post documenting all of his antics from that day. This kid who barely looked old enough to legally consume alcohol, just going going hard the entire time. Beautiful.

He was asking fans on the route to toss him beers at one point. Absolute legend.

That Penguins defensive corps without Letang did not inspire a lot of confidence and had plenty of doubters. They sure enjoyed proving everyone wrong. When they make his tribute video for his return to Pittsburgh next season, they should just use this footage from the parade and call it a day.

He even took time to stop by and chat with a few fans about...checks notes...what to order at Chick-fil-A.

If you don’t remember what the anecdote is from, when the Penguins returned to Pittsburgh from Nashville fresh off another Stanley Cup title, then Penguins defenseman Ian Cole took Maatta to a local Chick-fil-A to celebrate their accomplishment.

All the beer and heat from the parade eventually got the best of Maatta, and the aftermath provided us with one of the great photos in Penguins history.

Olli Maatta, passed out shirtless on a balcony in downtown Pittsburgh. Hang it in the Louvre. Luckily for us, Maatta was asked about that moment during locker cleanout the next day.

If you can only remember a single thing about Maatta’s time in Pittsburgh, make it this. Don’t remember the injuries or the struggles, just remember this, Olli Maatta in his finest hour.

We knew this day was coming, it only made sense when looking at the Penguins salary cap situation and the reality of their blue line. For all the frustrations we may have had with Maatta, you could never doubt his effort. For that we should be forever grateful for what he gave us.

“Kiitos” means “Thank you” in Finnish.

Kiitos for everything, Olli. Best of luck in Chicago.