The Chicago Blackhawks ditched some salary, while the Los Angeles Kings got a defenseman they can use right now as the two teams hooked up on a trade that sees Olli Maatta go to L.A. in exchange for minor-leaguer Brad Morrison. Chicago retains $750,100 of Maatta's $4.1 million cap hit as part of the deal and the Finnish blueliner has two more years left on his pact.
For Chicago, GM Stan Bowman opens up some cap space for himself as he goes into the off-season with restricted free agents such as Dylan Strome, Calder Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik and Drake Caggiula to negotiate with, among others. There's also the matter of goaltending, where Malcolm Subban is an RFA and Chicago stalwart Corey Crawford is an unrestricted free agent.
With only about $11 million of cap space available right now, Bowman has his work cut out for him, but things would have been even more difficult without the Maatta deal. In terms of the on-ice impact, the trade opens up a roster spot on Chicago, where a number of high-end hopefuls will compete to grab a job.
The Blackhawks are a team in transition right now and the squad has enough veterans on the back end to help shepherd along the youngsters - the most prominent of those older leaders being future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith. We already got a taste of dynamic puck-rusher Adam Boqvist this past season, but he is far from alone. Fellow skilled blueliners such as Nic Beaudin and Ian Mitchell are on their way up, while Wyatt Kalynuk was signed away from Philadelphia after he left the University of Wisconsin as a junior. There's also big, two-way D-man Alec Regula, ready to turn pro after an exemplary OHL career with the London Knights.
While Maatta was fine for the Blackhawks this past season, it's understandable that the Hawks would like to open up spots for their blue-chippers while saving cap space in the process. The team showed a lot of pluck in knocking off the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round of the post-season and though that victory shouldn't lead to a false sense of security, it's always helpful for a retooling team to get some experience for its youngsters in pressure games early on. Now that box has been ticked off for Boqvist, Kubalik and rising star center Kirby Dach.
Los Angeles is currently in a more embryonic stage of its rebuild - the part where you're still finishing out of the playoff picture while accruing high-end prospects - but this was a trade that won't impact that long-term goal.
The Kings have some experience on the back end in Drew Doughty, who helped L.A. win two Stanley Cups, but otherwise the blueline is quite young (at least in terms of NHL experience). Maatta may only be 26, but he's been around the block and won during his previous time with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Olli is a well-rounded player who will fit well with our group of defensemen,” said GM Rob Blake. “He is a young player that already has a lot of valuable NHL experience, including a pair of Stanley Cups, and we look forward to having him join our organization.”
Maatta was a decent possession player this past season, despite not getting a ton of offensive-zone faceoffs. He led the Hawks in scoring from the back end during the playoffs with six points in nine games, though the small sample size should not be leaned on - typically, he's been more of a 20-point guy during the regular season.
Los Angeles has approximately $13 million left under the cap now, but Blake doesn't have any major free agents to deal with: Ben Hutton and Trevor Lewis are the most prominent UFAs and neither are big-ticket guys.