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Olli Maatta Found Success on Blackhawks’ Third Pair

Olli Maatta was acquired last offseason to help solve the Blackhawks’ deficiencies on defense. He appeared in 65 games this season, the most by any Chicago defensemen, and eventually found success on the third pair.

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As the third highest-paid defenseman behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Olli Maatta entered the season with mixed emotions from fans and writers alike. One concern was his inability to stay healthy. During the 2018-19 season with the Penguins, Maatta spent 21 games on the IR, which added to his already long history of injuries and unfortunate health concerns.

The concerns about Maatta’s durability were very much supported, but this season he was able to avoid injury and was an important piece of the Blackhawks’ defense.

What the Numbers Say

In 65 games this season, Maatta was able to contribute 17 points from the back end with four goals and 13 assists. Overall, the Blackhawks defense had a dismal year producing offensively, as Maatta’s four goals were the third-most by a defenseman.

But Maatta was not acquired because of his offensive ability. The Blackhawks allowed the third-most goals in 2018-19 and pieces needed to be added to improve the back end. The Blackhawks were hoping Maatta could do just that.

One aspect of his game that was welcomed with open arms was his physicality, specifically in the defensive zone keeping attackers to the outside and battling guys in front of the net. Maatta finished the season with 119 hits, the second-most by a Blackhawks defenseman. You won’t see many open-ice hits by Maatta, but he is quick to take away time and space from opponents while not sacrificing his position to make a highlight-reel hit.

Photo: David Banks/AP

Analytically speaking, Maatta was below 50% in all 5v5 possession numbers. This is partly due to the team’s overall inefficiencies at 5v5 this season, but that does not discredit Maatta’s play. Maatta finally seemed to find some success when he was deployed with Slater Koekkoek on the Blackhawks’ third pair. The two were able to play against teams’ bottom-six forwards and, for the most part, shut them down.

While paired with Koekkoek the second half of the season, the duo had positive possession numbers at 5v5 in every category. There was even a stretch of five games that the pair had quickly become the Blackhawks’ best.

A third-pair defenseman was not what Blackhawks management had envisioned when they acquired Maatta. Jeremy Colliton and fans were hopeful Maatta could be a top-four defenseman and he was given every opportunity to assume that role, but it never quite worked out in his favor. While playing with Connor Murphy, the pair had shockingly poor numbers. While on the ice together at 5v5, Maatta and Murphy ended the season with a 26.09 Goals For%.

Now What?

Maatta is currently a very good second or third-pair defenseman. His current contract of six years worth $24.5 million ends in two seasons, when he will then become a UFA. With a cap hit of $4.083 million, it is a decently fair deal, but with other players yet to be signed for next season (Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome), some speculate that Maatta could be a buyout candidate.

Blackhawks fans will be watching closely to see what happens this offseason in terms of Maatta’s future with the team. He entered this past season with seemingly low expectations but did his best to stay healthy and found a home on the team’s third defensive pair.

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