Penguins Update: Nothin’ the Maatta with Olli – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Nothin’ the Maatta with Olli

Last season, right around this time, I posted an article titled, “What’s the Maatta with Olli?” on PenguinPoop.

I delved into why, at least to my admittedly imperfect eye, Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta seemed to have regressed since his promising rookie season of 2013-14, when the then 19-year-old rearguard sent our expectations soaring with his remarkably mature play.

In particular, I attempted to explain a puzzling loss of foot speed. I suggested everything from weight gain to metabolic issues to the lingering effects of the radiation treatment he received in the wake of surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his thyroid. Pens fans of a certain age will recall the anemia that overtook Mario Lemieux a couple of years after his radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s disease, which forced “Le Magnifique” to sit out the 1994-95 season.

Don’t look now. But just as mysteriously as Maatta lost a step, he appears to have regained it over the summer…and then some. It’s early, for sure. But seven games into the new season, he looks surprisingly mobile, not to mention cool, confident and ready to take his game to new heights.

Statistics don’t always tell the story. However, in this case, the numbers support the rather dramatic uptick in Maatta’s play, especially in the offensive zone. Through seven games, Olli’s tallied two goals and five assists, good for seven points.

That’s a point-per-game clip, folks. Impressive even for elite scorers like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, let alone a fuzzy-cheeked 23-year-old defenseman from Finland whose favorite dish is mushroom soup. He’s been a model of consistency, too, notching at least one point in each game except the lopsided loss to Chicago.

It’s a far cry from last season. Maatta didn’t score his first (and only) 2016-17 regular-season goal until January 18. He registered his seventh point on Valentine’s Day, shortly before he went on the IR with a broken hand. His scoring touch resurfaced, briefly, in the postseason when he notched goals in back-to-back games against Ottawa.

Still, his overall performance paled in comparison to his rookie season, when he tallied nine goals and 29 points and was a consistent producer from the back end. Of course, that was before Maatta’s career was interrupted by a string of almost unimaginable misfortune, including a torn labrum that required two surgeries, the thyroid tumor, a lower-back injury and the broken hand.

Despite the setbacks, Pens GM Jim Rutherford thought enough of the young blueliner to sign him to a six-year contract extension worth $24.5 million in February 2016. And even though the offensive side of his game seemed to fade, Olli remained a steady defensive presence, logging an impressive plus-44 over a two-year span.

During last spring’s Cup run, Maatta finished a quiet third among Pens defensemen in scoring and second to Brian Dumoulin in plus/minus (plus-8), all the while averaging a stout 20:37 of ice time.

Back to that fast start this year. Pens coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t seem at all surprised by No. 3’s resurgence.

“I think Olli’s always had an element of offense to his game,” Sullivan told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He sees the ice really well. He jumps into holes. He joins the rush. Olli’s a really smart player. I think his hockey sense is underrated. That’s one of the things that allows him to be as effective as he is.”

Maybe those early expectations of Maatta developing into an All-Star weren’t so far-fetched after all.


The Penguins recalled defenseman Zach Trotman from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton yesterday. He takes the place of Matt Hunwick, who’s presently out with a concussion.

Trotman, a right-handed shot, signed a one-year contract with the Pens this summer. The 6’3” 217-pounder has three goals, 12 points and 117 hits in 67 NHL games—all with Boston.

In four games with the Baby Pens this season, the 27-year-old Indiana native was a plus-1 with two assists.

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  1. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    October 21, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Wilson and a Pick for Sheahan, you have got to be kidding me!!!!!!!!

    First we pay Vegas a draft pick to take MAF.
    Then we pay a 1st round pick and a player for Reaves.
    No we give up Wilson and a Pick for Sheahan.

    JR will either look like a hero or the stupidest GM in the history of the league.
    I would think that the probabilities do not look good for him.

    • PK's Gravatar PK
      October 21, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      No pick. Pens moved up two rounds with the picks. Needed a center and got a big one. Wilson has been a healthy scratch. Both players are 25. Sheahan has played way more NHL games. I don’t think it’s that bad.

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        October 21, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

        I wish I shared your optimism.

        I am cringing at the thought of seeing Sheahan playing 2nd line C at some point. That is a real sobering thought for me. Yes Guentzel can play Center, but he is more effective at wing. Because of this trade, unless the Pens can squeeze 82 games out of Crosby and Malkin, the Pens will be hard pressed to win even the front half of their 19 back-to-back games.

        As I wrote in a reply, elsewhere, third line center is a whole, but the glaring holes this year are on D and G. Before last nights game, the Pens were actually + 10 goals for compared to last year at the same point, but they were -8 goals against over the same span. To go along with that their raw CORSI numbers hade gone down 30 points. Last year the Pens had taken 5 more shots against their opponents, this year after the first seven games they were -25 shots per game.

        At even strength only Dumoulin was near the mid 50s in the CA/60 department, every other D was hovering around the 60 mark or above.

        Yes I wanted some action in the trade department, and I would have loved to see the Pens get a viable 3rd line Center that could step up and play second line when the occasion demanded, but the real is with the Ds and Gs. Look at the game going on right now, 0 – 4.

        I pray that the Sully does not put Murray in and just lets Niemi take his lumps. (I hope I don’t have to explain that comment for about 2 weeks)

        • kerrdog211's Gravatar kerrdog211
          October 21, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

          I think that this was a shot worth taking. I liked big Red (Wilson) but honestly why not take a shoot? Red has been inconsistent and our cup runneth over on the wing front so grabbing a guy that can play both center and wing is a no brainer, plus we didn’t give up much for him. If it works out great, if not he plays the 4th line center role. I think we have a bigger issue with Niemi. If this guy is going to give up 6 goals everytime we trot him out, then we are in big trouble no matter who’s playing 3rd and 4th line center.

          • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
            October 21, 2017 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

            Hey Kerrdog,211,

            I am not going to argue with you in that Wilson has been very consistent and Niemi looks more like he wants to work on the tan on the back of his neck rather than be an NHL goalie. However, look for my rebuttal tomorrow in the form of a post. Needless to say I do think this trade can and just may hurt the team.

            • Kerrdog211's Gravatar Kerrdog211
              October 21, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

              the Other Rick,
              I am looking forward to it, really enjoy your insight and passion.

  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    October 21, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Game Change- Ken Dryden’s New Book on Concussions

    When the book came out last week…Silence ! Vancouver,Edmonton,Calgary,Winnipeg,Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal all said
    NO COMMENT !!! They were scared to death. The Toronto Globe and Mail , our national paper and is owned by the same people who own the Jets,I might add, waited patiently for a few days. The CBC put Dryden on several media platforms to promote his book, but more importantly to get the message out. HOCKEY CAN KILL YOU !! This is the oh shit moment that Bettman has feared .
    The Globe did on October 20th a 4 page spread on the subject and explains in detail what is involved. I have read it several times and have listened to 2 different shows where Ken Dryden tells the story of Steve Montador, a journey men NHL d man who played 600 games for various teams. He died at the age of 35 !!! First concussion at the age of 12 they think.
    Dryden correctly argues that the only way hockey will survive is to ” OUT LAW ” any contact above the shoulders,eliminate checks into the boards and of course fighting is gone. Basically turn the NHL back into the European style game of the 70’s. NO physical contact above the shoulders !!
    Medical evidence is over whelming that he is correct. Children playing Hockey at the age of 10 to 12 are getting Concussed. Information just released shows that Hockey Helmets DO NOT PREVENT CONCUSSIONS . They prevent injury, but not concussions. ( Holy Crap ). Just one concussion can affect a child’s brain development for LIFE ! Same in Football.
    There is a class action suit against the NHL in Canada and Bettman wants to keep it separate from the American clubs the Globe writes. The fear is that they will expand the lawsuit and GO AFTER THE ADVERTISERS. Ford, Bell, Rogers, Air Canada…Some big name companies.If they can prove that the advertisers knew about the potential life threatening injuries they can be
    implicated. It may be a stretch but no company will risk the bad publicity. Further more now if this goes forward all minor league teams of all levels can be held accountable. Coaches who volunteer their time to run these minor leagues could become involved in legal actions. Good luck getting volunteers then.
    Do you have any idea what this could do to Hockey ?? Coach and i discussed briefly in one post. This is Pearl Harbor for the NHL !!
    As the Globe says they want to keep this out of the US media.
    Your thoughts guys ??

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 21, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Good to hear from you!

      The problem here, in my opinion, is the years of denial and years of no real attempt to address the issue. The slaps on the wrist the NHL hands out for deliberate attempt to injure should cause lawyers to line – up salivating to represent the plaintiffs, particularly for the punitive phases of the suits.

      Yes, I am just looking at the NHL level, but since they are the richest, making them the ripest target of the $$$ sharks.

      And again, from my perspective, since they had the chance to police themselves and failed, failed miserably, they will deserve any and all civil liabilities they incur.

      The down side is that at least at first, the Pendulum will swing to far. People, particularly greedy morons always go way to far, and the result will hurt the game, taking away even the safer parts of hockey.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        October 21, 2017 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

        Well said Buddy. Dead on. I love the game of hockey as you do.
        The NHL has to own up to this or it will be game over. You know i tend to go over board a bit, but I truly believe this is the coming of a completely different NHL ,if the owners do not take responsibility, fix the problem and pay the piper !!
        Bettman is nuts to think this will not flow over to the USA and then watch out!! With your court system and history of successful large class action suits that AWARD PUNITIVE DAMAGES as well as the losses claimed… BILLIONS !! I can not honestly imagine what will happen. Same with minor and college Hockey programs.
        Here is the key Coach. There is excellent work being done in Boston and area on both NFL and now NHL players. Reports say they have dissected over 100 NFL players brains who have died from head trauma and now have done some NHL players as well. U of Toronto is doing some similar research and sharing information with the Boston crowd..They are turning up some REAL evidence on Brain injuries and blows to the head. Stuff we never knew before.
        Ken Dryden spoke live about this very fact. Hockey helmets do not prevent Concussions. Yes they protect from injuries but have little affect on concussions ! I am no Doctor but Dryden says the WHIP LASH affect of the Brain traveling 40 miles per hour and then suddenly stopping, or reversing direction causes the Brain to compress inside the skull and causes swelling that leads to concussions. One concussion can affect ones Brain development, especially if you are under 20 year of age. Mothers are going to go CRAZY and put their kids into soccer or baseball, but not Hockey or Football once all this info becomes public.
        Scared !! You bet the NHL is scared. I saved the best for last Coach. Alzheimer’s ! They are saying that early tests now may prove a link between concussions and early development of Alzheimer’s !! The scientists have already proved it in Boxing. If that one is proven !!

        As our famous Mike Lange would say… Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the Building…for good !

  3. The Other Rick's Gravatar The Other Rick
    October 21, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    A couple of things;

    The superstitious part of me doesn’t want to go into the details, particularly in a full posting, so I am posting this quietly here as just a comment; There is a Penguin who can tie an NHL record very soon. When he does I will definitely make a big deal about it.

    Daniel Sprong with a hat trick and an assist last night. He has 7 goals, 3 assists and 10 points in 5 games down in WBS.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 21, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      That’s good news.

      Sprong appears to be picking up right where he left off with Charlottetown, where he scored at a goal-per-game clip. If this kid’s the real deal…and there’s every indication he is…it certainly gives Jim Rutherford some leverage when it comes to making a trade.

      This probably is the height of wishful thinking, given how scarce this type of player is, but I wish we could land a big left wing with some talent, speed and sand. Kind of a younger, super-sized version of Chris Kunitz, if you will.

      I still feel we’re lacking a bit in the size/gristle/compete department, and a player of that ilk would go a long way toward fixing the issue. Maybe Zach Aston-Reese is eventually that guy, but it’s way too early to tell.

      Even though the chances of getting him are truly remote, I keep thinking about Gabriel Landeskog. It would be great to have him learn his craft from countryman Hornqvist.

      We’ll still need a No. 3 center before all is said and done. McKegg’s done an admirable job, but he’s not the answer, long-term.

      Switching gears, it sure was good to see the fourth line have an impact. And Reaves actually made a great play to force the turnover that led to our second goal.

      There may yet be hope that he’ll evolve into a useful player. His presence certainly has a chilling effect on opponents. Nobody wants to go nose to nose with this guy.


    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      October 21, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Hey Guys
      Daniel given proper line mates will put up some real good numbers. 30-40 goals he could reach in a few years annually. I just hope he continues to develop his pro game so he can dominate with out the puck as he did in PEI.
      I too want to see a scoring left winger with some size and grit and a third center added sooner than later.
      Also I am very glad that Maatta has regained some of his lost mojo.I said at the time he signed the 6 year, 4 million + dollar extension deal that it could be one of JR’s best moves. 4 + million dollars contract for a d man that generated 75 to 82 points a year and plays solid defense will be a steal.
      Then with Dumo doing well and his 6 year deal at 4.1+ million makes for some stability long term.Add Justin Shultz 3 year deal and we have the makings of a workable d corps.
      For me it makes Letang trade bait.
      Good points guys.
      Sorry I have been really busy with some local maters lately and i have not had the time to post.I still read you guys every day.
      Wish I could type faster than 15 words a minute. 🙂

      I am going to do a new post above about CONCUSSIONS !
      The crap hit the fan Thursday with a 4 page spread on the subject in the Globe and Mail, our national paper, based on the new Ken Dryden book released last week on this subject. Then he did several media appearances to promote the book and one being on a CBC national radio show in prime time.He was excellent on the media..
      As great a goalie as he was, his Harvard education comes thru and he articulates beautifully the various sides to this complex issue.
      Houston !!! We have a problem ..

  4. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    October 20, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Great Article! Like you, I was a Maatta fan his rookie season, then a doubter last year. I couldn’t figure out the problem either.

    Phil kept the faith though. It does help to be able to see the game from the vantage point of being at the rink for a lot of home games. You get to see the behind the puck action much better.

    But again, like you I am enjoying, finally watching a Penguin No. 1 pick start acting like a No 1 pick. I hope that this is no fluke and he keeps putting up numbers. Imagine if Letang and Schultz get with the program and start fulfilling their salaries, I would have very little to complain about. If all three hit their stride, I may not even notice the holes that players like Hunwick leave.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 20, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Thanks Other Rick.

      Yes, Phil supported Maatta during a time when a lot of us (including me) would’ve readily traded Olli away. It speaks to staying patient, especially when young defensemen are involved.

      Totally bending the subject, how about New Jersey? It’s early yet, but it looks like Ray Shero’s done a heck of a job patching a lot of holes pretty quickly. Among his successful reclamations…former Pen Brian Gibbons (remember him?). He’s got three goals and five points thus far!

      On the flip side, man do I feel badly for Rick Tocchet. He’s coaching essentially an AHL team out in Arizona.


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        October 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Hey Rick,

        It does take longer for D men to develop. They have to make their mistakes to learn, and making those mistakes in the AHL really doesn’t count. They need to make them against players that could really play.

        It surely didn’t hurt Shero’s team getting Hirschier and Butcher. I wish Shero had had the patience not to trade away so many 1st round picks when he was here.

        As for Butcher, I can’t help but think he owes JR for that one. I would think that if JR and Sullivan wouldn’t have been so lukewarm to Butcher’s agent’s overtures our boys in black-n-gold would be benefitting from Butcher’s services.

        I do remember Gibbons. I was never a huge fan of Midget players, but I did like Gibbons.

        As for Tocchet, it seems to me there was a Pgh coach many years back, in a different sport, by the name of Chuck Noll, who took a team that was more semi-pro rather than pro and in short order, turned them into Super Bowl Champions. Well, I don’t want to cede the Cup just yet; I would like to see the Pens beat NYI 4-peat, but I surely hope Tocchet enjoys similar success.


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