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GM Jim Rutherford tells 93.7 The Fan that move to trade a defenseman was between Johnson or Maatta

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GM Jim Rutherford is talking again...

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a necessary attempt to alleviate some cap space, GM Jim Rutherford and the Penguins traded defenseman Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks for young forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Removing Maatta’s more than $4 million cap hit was a huge move to create space to add talent around the Penguins’ core and stock the roster for next season. However, during an interview with Pittsburgh radio station 93.7 The Fan, Rutherford admitted that a different, more controversial defenseman was also in discussions to be moved.

“We certainly had to make a move from a cap point of view,” Rutherford said in an article by the Post-Gazette. “We were getting ourselves to a point where we might have been in a little trouble. It was going to be either Jack Johnson or Maatta to open up the necessary cap space and open up the logjam at defense. And as it turned out, it ended up being Olli.”

This isn’t the first time this offseason that Johnson’s name has been attached to potential trade moves, as a package deal with Phil Kessel for Minnesota Wild forwards Jason Zucker and Victor Rask was put on the table a couple weeks ago. Kessel, using his extensive no-trade clause as leverage, ultimately vetoed the trade and will likely stay in Pittsburgh for the 2019-20 season, but it showed that Rutherford’s once-locked in praise of the Penguins’ current blueliners is slowly fading away.

Johnson’s five-year, $16.25 million contract was signed July of 2018. The Penguins are currently projected to have about $6.37 million in cap space to work with this summer if the salary cap is raised to $83 million, per TSN.

However, reports from national NHL insiders Pierre LeBrun and Bob McKenzie state that multiple teams are concerned about the cap forecast that came out Monday. The forecasts stated that the cap might actually be less than $82 million for next season, or an increase of only slightly more than $2 million. Cap-strapped teams, like the Penguins, will be in a huge bind if this report is accurate.

It’s going to be a very interesting road ahead for Pittsburgh’s books.