The Penguins are going to have to move a defenseman this summer. It's inevitable.
The Penguins currently have eight defensemen under contract for next season -- Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Erik Gudbranson, Jack Johnson, Chad Ruhwedel, and Juuso Riikola. Marcus Pettersson remains unsigned, but he's a restricted free agent. None of those players has waiver-exempt status.
Maatta's $4.083 million cap hit is the fourth-highest among Penguins defensemen. At 24 years old, he's also the youngest among all eight currently under contract. That makes him the most likely candidate for a trade this summer. Maatta is young enough to still bring back an actual return, and his cap hit is high enough that they could likely do so while freeing up cap space, or at least not losing much cap space.
Which teams around the league could have a use for Maatta? Let's take a look.
The Kings could be a good fit for a Maatta trade.
The Kings have seven defenseman signed for next season, and only two -- Dion Phaneuf and Derek Forbort -- are left-handed. They definitely have a need for a left-handed shot like Maatta if they want to have balanced pairings.
The Kings as a whole could also stand to get younger. They were the third-oldest team in the league last season, with an average age of 30.99.
The Kings have a little more than $11.7 million in cap space, with only 10 forwards under contract. They likely won't be able to take on too much more salary in a trade.
The Canadiens were reportedly interested in Maatta leading up to this past season's trade deadline, and it makes sense.
The Canadiens could use an upgrade on the left side of their blue line. Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, and Jordie Benn were the defensemen playing on the left side by the end of the season. All are left-handed on playing on their natural side. Maatta, a left shot, could be a better fit for the top pairing with Shea Weber than Mete was last season.
The Canadiens already have seven defensemen under contract for next season, but that includes 22-year-old Noah Juulsen, who is still waivers-exempt and could begin the season in the AHL. They don't necessarily need one of the big-name free agent defensemen this summer, they need depth.
The Canadiens have 14 forwards under contract for next season, and all but two have lower cap hits than Maatta's. The Canadiens are also projected to have nearly $12 million in cap space for next season before free agency, so they could afford to add salary in the deal while the Penguins cut salary.
The Flames are another team that just needs to add to their defensive depth. They could also use another left-handed defenseman. They have lefties Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin still under contract, as well as 20-year-old Juuso Valimaki, who split the season between the AHL and NHL last season.
The Flames will be tight on cap space, however, so the Penguins likely wouldn't be able to free up space in a deal with the Flames. The Flames are projected to have just under $14.5 million in cap space, and they still need to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett and David Rittich, and a goaltender.
Two players the Flames are expected to try to move this summer are defenseman Travis Hamonic and left winger Michael Frolik. Frolik scored 16 goals and 34 assists in 65 games last season, and has a similar cap hit to Maatta at $4.3 million.
Zucker, 27, carries a $5.5 million cap hit and has a 10-team no-trade clause which the Penguins are presumably not on. He scored 21 goals and 21 assists in 81 games last season for the Wild, and could be the reliable scoring winger the Penguins need.
The Wild's focus this offseason will have to be on revamping the offense, but the defense could use some depth as well.
The Canucks are another team in need of left-handed defensemen. They have six defensemen under contract. Three are left-handed shots -- Quinn Hughes, Guillaume Brisebois and Ashton Sautner -- and none of the three have more than 22 games of NHL experience. Maatta is young, but he does bring experience.
The six defensemen currently under contract have a combined cap hit of only $9,889,166. That's very low. Alexander Edler is set to be a free agent this season, and he'll likely earn a contract with a cap hit in the $7 million area. Even if the Canucks re-sign Edler -- and they're trying -- they'd have more than enough room to fit Maatta. The Canucks also have 12 forwards and two goaltenders under contract, and still have more than $30.5 million in cap space with which to work.
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