What Does Olli Maatta’s Injury Mean for Jim Rutherford?
While Jim Rutherford had previously stated that the Penguins would be sitting pat for the time being, it would be safe to predict that the team’s next trade target would be another top-six forward to play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
Now that Olli Maatta may be out for the season, however, the team’s plans may need to change.
Losing a top-four defenseman is tough on any squad. However, you might assume that this situation would be a bit easier to handle for the Penguins. After all, they have Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, and Derrick Pouliot.
With Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff healthy, however, all three defensemen have been sent down the minors. Taylor Chorney will now be serving as the #7 defenseman, with Robert Bortuzzo playing in the Olli Maatta slot in the top four. Even if the three young blueliners could play in the NHL today, it’s clear that the team doesn’t want to rush their development.
If the Penguins are serious about their quest for a Stanley Cup, should they look for a pending-UFA trade target replacement for Olli Maatta? If so, does the need to add a top-four defenseman surpass its never-ending top-six winger woes?
Now might be a good time to read into the recent lineup changes in Pittsburgh. While the expectation going into the season was for Beau Bennett to play alongside Brandon Sutter, it appears that Mike Johnston may be looking to see if the oft-injured winger can stick in the top-six with Evgeni Malkin. The returns have been great thus far, with Beau Bennett recording one even-strength goal in two games. Geno has recorded two goals and an assist during that time span.
If the Penguins can fill one of their top-six holes internally, you might see a similar forward unit to the one I’ve outlined below once Comeau and Hornqvist return:
Perron – Crosby – Hornqvist
Comeau – Malkin – Bennett
Kunitz – Sutter – Downie
Spaling – Goc – Adams
Rutherford’s future acquisition plans may be dependent upon if, and how well, Bennett meshes with Malkin over a longer period of time. Additionally, the following questions need to be answered:
1. Should Penguins fans be confident in Blake Comeau’s ability to play in the top-six during the playoffs? Comeau has entered his prime and has a track record of playing well alongside star talent, including both Malkin and John Tavares.
2. Does Chris Kunitz still have what it takes to play in the top-six or should he play on the third line?
The lineup outlined above looks promising, although it would certainly be better if Bryan Rust were playing above Craig Adams. Regardless, if the lines prove that they can produce, it may not be necessary for the team to overpay for a player like Jiri Tlusty or Jaromir Jagr.
If that’s the case, should Jim Rutherford turn his attention to the defense instead? Should he choose to do so, it’s unlikely that he’ll be dealing Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, or Derrick Pouliot:
If you want one of their good, young blueline prospects — Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington or Derrick Pouliot — it won’t be easy, “because we know what we’ve got with them, and it’s hard to find,” Rutherford said. “I would prefer not to… If it makes the difference I would consider it, but if I don’t trade them, the Pittsburgh defence is set for a long time.”
He said Dumoulin and Harrington are ready to play full-time in the NHL. Pouliot? “I don’t want to get ahead of things with him,” the GM said, “but he is improving and getting closer.”
Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet