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Trade Coverage

NHL Trade Buzz: Olli Maatta gives Penguins choices

Pittsburgh could use salary-cap space left by injured defenseman to help roster, bring him back for playoffs

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

Welcome to the NHL Trade Buzz. There are 12 days remaining until the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET., March 1), and the injury to defenseman Olli Maata could give the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins more salary-cap flexibility. Also, the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets, with the third-most points in the Eastern Conference and a young foundation, seem reluctant to make a big move. 

Here's a look around the League at the latest deadline doings:

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

The six-week absence of defenseman Olli Maatta is not as bad it seems for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

At first blush, losing him for at least a month and a half is a big blow as the Penguins look to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

But a closer look suggests things are not as bad as they seem.

Video: PIT@MTL: Maatta pads lead with first of the season

Maatta, who had surgery Friday after injuring his left hand during the second period of a 4-3 overtime victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, should be back for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was averaging 18:01 of ice time per game.

While injured, Maatta, who has a salary-cap charge of $4.083 million this season, can be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), giving the Penguins some much-needed cap flexibility as they try to pursue a trade to further bolster themselves. Pittsburgh is second in the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division, behind the Washington Capitals.

General manager Jim Rutherford had already stated, before the Maatta injury, that he would like to add proven depth on defense. Now that becomes even more of a priority, especially if Justin Schultz, who also sustained an unspecified injury Thursday, is out for an extended period.

If placed on LTIR, Maatta, 22, could be activated for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the salary cap is no longer in play.

Rutherford also has the option of trading goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is now the backup to Matt Murray. That would give him even more salary-cap space. Fleury, 32, has a $5.75 million cap charge for this and each of the next two seasons. 

Video: WPG@PIT: Fleury denies Ehlers on breakaway in OT

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not appear to be seduced by their unexpected success this season.

The Blue Jackets have 77 points, the third most in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately their Metropolitan Division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (79 points) and Washington Capitals (84 points) sit 1-2 in the conference. Another Metropolitan Division team, the New York Rangers, is fourth with 75 points.

Despite that logjam and the inevitability that at least one of those four teams would lose in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs if they finished that way in the standings, Columbus is trying to resist the urge to accelerate its team-building process.

Video: TOR@CBJ: Foligno uses his leg to deflect home PPG

"I don't think we want to get ahead of ourselves, where we try to put all the eggs in one basket in the spring of 2017 and sort of go for it," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told The Columbus Dispatch on Thursday. "We're going to go for it if we make the playoffs, [in the sense that] it's going to be a great opportunity for our group.

"That's the way we should look at the playoffs, if we get there. It's a great opportunity for our group to again earn some respect and prove to people that we belong there."

This unequivocally is the right move for the Blue Jackets, who have one of the youngest teams in the NHL.

"Our window is not closing in 2017, it's just starting to crack open," Kekalainen said. "I don't see any reason to go crazy because we have a crack open in our window. We're trying to widen it by making wise, long-term decisions, and get better from within."

Columbus has a solid foundation. 

Each of its top five scorers is under 30: Cam Atkinson (27), Alexander Wennberg (22), Nick Foligno (29), Brandon Saad (24) and Sam Gagner (27). Its top two defensemen are Zach Werenski (19) and Seth Jones (22). Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, having a Vezina Trophy-type season, is 28.

Video: DET@CBJ: Atkinson puts home a loose puck in crease

Adding to that depth, not making a big splash, should be Kekalainen's mandate.

 

San Jose Sharks

Last season the San Jose Sharks felt they needed a proven backup goaltender, and they traded for James Reimer from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 28.

The Sharks are in a similar position this season, leading the Pacific Division by four points and considered a top Stanley Cup contender. But the backup to Martin Jones is Aaron Dell, an unproven 27-year-old in his first NHL season.

Dell has been good, going 6-3-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 11 games, but that's a small sample size. Will GM Doug Wilson follow the same blueprint he did last season, when he sent goaltender Alex Stalock, forward Ben Smith and a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft to Toronto for Reimer and forward Jeremy Morin?

Video: SJS@NJD: Jones negates Noesen's open redirection

That remains to be seen, but the signals suggest it won't be the case.

Coach Peter DeBoer has thrown his support behind Dell.

"I don't know what else he could do to show that he's an NHL-caliber goalie so far," DeBoer said after Dell made 33 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss at the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 11. "Those are decisions that Doug makes. But in my mind that's not an issue right now for us."

Plus, the Sharks do not have the trade ammunition they had in the past. They don't have a ton of flexibility with the salary cap ($1.6 million, according to capfriendly.com), and previous trades leave them with no second-round pick in the 2017 and 2018 drafts.

The Sharks most likely will stick with Dell and try to get him some more time down the stretch. Reimer started nine of the final 19 games last season. Jones has started 49 of 58 games this season.

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