It has been a season to forget for Olli Maatta.
The Pittsburgh Penguins sophomore defenseman, who has been on the sideline more than he’s been in the lineup this season, will now reportedly miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury that he suffered on Dec. 6. The injury adds to a list of injuries that make you wonder what one player could have done to deserve such a terrible deal.
It began in training camp, when the 20-year-old rearguard was undergoing his preseason physical. Doctors discovered a tumor on the young defenseman’s thyroid, and, in November, after playing 10 games for the Penguins to start the season, he had surgery to remove it. The tumor, which was discovered to be cancerous, and its removal sidelined Maatta for slightly more than two weeks, over which time he missed six games.
After returning to the lineup, Maatta would only suit up for 10 more games before another injury, this time to his shoulder, sidelined him once again. The injury, suffered against the Ottawa Senators, has put the Finnish defenseman out of action for the last 15 games, and now it appears it will cost him the remainder of the 2014-15 campaign. Though an announcement has yet to be made, it's expected it will come in the next few days.
The young rearguard has been one of the top-flight defenders for the Penguins, averaging more than 20 minutes a night in the games he has played this season. Losing him is going to hurt significantly, especially at a time when the playoff push for every team is really underway. Luckily for Pittsburgh, the play of Kris Letang has been outstanding this season, and can hopefully somewhat mask the loss of one of the Penguins best defensemen.
As for the Penguins options without Maatta, it’s likely the team will rely on their six main-roster defensemen. Young defenseman Derrick Pouliot was demoted on Monday and, in his place, Taylor Chorney was recalled from the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. One would have to assume Penguins GM Jim Rutherford did so with knowledge of Maatta’s situation. Chorney has had a respectable season in the AHL, posting two goals and nine points in 34 games. That said, he's no replacement for Maatta.
The Penguins have had an extremely strange season when it comes to injury troubles. Winger Pascal Dupuis has missed nearly the entire season with a blood clot in his lungs, several players have contracted the mumps virus, and Maatta, as previously mentioned, was sidelined with a thyroid tumor.
Though Pittsburgh remains among the top teams in the Eastern Conference and very much in the thick of the race for top spot, injury troubles have derailed promising seasons before. In what could still be a deep playoff run for the Penguins, the team has to be hoping that losing Maatta is the last of their injury troubles this season.