The Penguins have four games left to decide what they want to do with Olli Maatta.
The 10-game mark.
A junior-aged player with a contract can play up to nine NHL games as a trial period. If he is returned to junior before the tenth game, his contract is effectively put on hold: when he goes to training camp the following season, he will be in the first year of his contract.
Once the player appears in his tenth NHL game, his contract kicks in. He can still be returned to his junior club after that. But at season's end, a full contract year will expire.
Being that there isn't much else to bitch about through five games, the decision on Maatta is one that is generating a ton of attention.
He has proven a lot
Mark Madden chimed in with a good piece on Maatta Monday. [ BCT ]
But, albeit via small sample, Maatta has proven he’s one of the best six defensemen in the organization. No doubt. He’s earned a roster spot.
Despite preconceived plans, Jordan Staal forced his way onto the Penguins at 18. Staal showed he was indigenous to winning. Maybe Maatta can do that at 19.
The Penguins are squeezed tight against the salary cap. Maatta is affordable. He makes just $894,000. Matt Niskanen makes $2.3 million. Niskanen is a sold performer, but Maatta is better, and with a much bigger upside.
Does sending him back do anything?
Sean Griffin of the Hockey Writers wonders if sending Maatta back to juniors makes any sense. [ THW ]
That being the case, Olli needs to remain in Pittsburgh and he needs to play. Sending him back to London won’t do anything to develop his game; he’s already learned everything he can in the junior ranks. Worse yet, sticking in Pittsburgh but ultimately being demoted to the role of a seventh defenseman may actually serve to hinder Maatta’s development.
How will Shero find space?
Ryan Wilson of Hockey Buzz points out, as others have, that Shero would need to find space for Maatta. [ HB ]
It is time for Shero to create a spot for him. Whether that means Niskanen stays, Bortuzzo becomes the 7th guy, and Engelland is traded, or Niskanen is traded. Maatta and Bortuzzo are the last pairing, I don’t really care. You just have to find a way to make room for Maatta.
On that same subject, good friend @pensbender points this out:
Niskanen's PDO is an unreal 122.7 right now. You may never get the kind of return you could by moving him now.
— Rich Miller (@pensbender) October 14, 2013
Mike Colligan's take
We talked to Colligan earlier today. He has a huge Maatta piece coming Wednesday. He gave us this:
"Maatta had been poised — even downright impressive at times. I don't think his future is even up for debate though. He won't stay. It all comes down to asset management. The temptation is always there to put the best team on the ice right now, but long-term success requires patience. Will the Penguins be a little better this season with Maatta in the lineup? Probably. But burning a year of his contract to have him play third pair minutes just isn't responsible asset management.
Some have argued Maatta will regress by spending another year in juniors. That's silly. He may not improve, but if his career gets derailed because he spent one too many years playing with teenagers, then maybe he isn't all he's cracked up to be."
Our hot sports take
Let's see. We were wrong about Jordan Staal. Maybe one of the worst posts ever. [ OLD TPB ]
Other than Kris Letang, this really has been the only time such an issue has been raised.
Two reasons we would keep Maatta
Why he won't probably
Unfortunately for Maatta, this leads to the answer that he and many Pittsburgh fans will be forced to succumb to. Olli Maatta is ready for Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh is not ready for Olli Maatta quite yet.