For going on damn near three years now, it’s been obvious to anyone with a brain that the Blackhawks have had lacked a lot on the blue line. We knew that good ol’ Duncan Keith would never be able to keep up his cowboy ways at the elite level he had played at before, and there seemed to be little to-no-help on the way. Last year the Hawks desperately lacked an effective puck mover on the backend who could also defend well. Going into the offseason, they needed to find someone who could shut down the opponent in the defensive zone. Who could, ideally, take away half the ice the way Keith used to, even if not quite as well. They needed someone who could do all that while also being able to get the puck out of the zone once he had it, either by skating or passing. And if they could get all of that in one guy, that’d be ideal.
So they traded for Olli Maatta, who can do none of that.
2018-19 Stats (w/ Penguins)
60 GP – 1 G, 13 A, 14 P
46.51 CF% (-4.42 CF% Rel), 43.36 oZS%
53.75 GF% (-0.08 GF% Rel), 51.53 xGF% (-0.27 xGF% Rel)
15:27 Avg. TOI
A Brief History: At one point Maatta was considered one of the better prospects in the NHL, but due to a series of injuries both on and off the ice, including an unfortunate battle with cancer, he never fully delivered on all the promise. Once considered someone with high offensive upside, especially after having 9 goals and 29 points in 78 games during his rookie season, Maatta has struggled to produce since and has never topped either of those numbers, though he did have 29 points again in 2017-18 when he played all 82 games for the only time in his career. Last year he failed to match that scoring pace and ended up going on IR with yet another injury in March, this one an upper-body injury after taking an uncomfortable hit. He missed all but 5 games from that point on.
Maatta has settled somewhat nicely into your typically “defensive defenseman” role, as despite missing 22 games last year, he finished third on the Penguins in blocked shots and hits. If that sentence sounded positive, it was not meant to. Basically what that means is that despite being a quarter of the season, Maatta spent so much fucking time in his own defensive zone that he had no choice but to throw his dumb body in front of pucks, likely because he was tired of skating around, because that isn’t exactly a strength of his. Blocking a lot of shots is good when you’re Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is good at both preventing shots and getting in front of them, but when you’re getting face-fucked by the opponents at a near-54% clip and 4% below your own team rate, blocking those shots is less impressive skill and more necessary duty.
It Was the Best of Times: Just staying healthy for the full 82 would be a best-case scenario for Maatta as an individual, because again, he’s only done that once. As a player and contributor to the Hawks, it would be ideal if he can return to his scoring pace from ’17-’18 and could end up somewhere in that 23-29 point range. Expecting more than that is foolhardy, but it’s not unrealistic to think he could do that. Moreover, it’d be nice if he cleans up his shit in the defensive zone and is able to fight above the 50% mark on shot attempts. If he can do all of that and be a steady presence on the back end, this could end up being a not-terrible acquisition. On the other hand….
It Was the BLURST of Times: If Maatta plays like he did last year – getting brained by the other team and playing well below team rate on shot attempts, and getting by-and-large lucky on the overall goal differential, while also providing little to nothing of note from a production standpoint, Maatta runs the risk of compounding the issues that ailed the Hawks’ blue line last year rather than offering himself as a solution. If that does end up being the case, him getting injured – which he probably will – would not be such a bad outcome, as bad is that is to say and as harsh as that sounds.
Prediction: Maatta deals with some minor injury stuff but nothing too major, and plays more than 65 but less than 75 games for the Hawks. He makes a modest improvement in the CF% but still finishes below team rate and probably leads the team in blocked shots, which will earn him praise even though it probably shouldn’t. He won’t get back to 2017-18 production but will score 5 goals and 15 points, which will be fine but not make much of a difference.