The Pittsburgh Penguins freed up cap space over the weekend, shipping Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks for rookie Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round pick.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford admitted Monday, though, that it could have been a different defenceman on the move.
“We certainly had to make a move from a cap point of view," Rutherford told 93.7 The Fan, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "...We were getting ourselves to a point where we might have been in a little trouble.
"It was going to be either [Jack] Johnson or Maatta to open up the necessary cap space and open up the logjam at defence. And as it turned out, it ended up being Olli.”
Johnson, who posted one goal and 13 points in 82 games this season, signed a five-year, $16.25 million contract with the Penguins last July. He was reportedly a part of the team’s proposed trade with the Minnesota Wild for Jason Zucker and Victor Rask before Phil Kessel refused to waive his no-trade clause.
Rutherford stated once again on Monday that he currently expects Kessel to remain with the team next season, though he kept the door open for a move.
“I’m not actively looking to trade him at this point,” Rutherford said. “If somebody comes along with a deal that makes sense, we’ll take a look at it.”
The general manager struck a similar tone when asked if veterans Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang could be moved this summer.
“There’s been great players traded in this league,” he said. “If somebody comes along with a package that makes sense for the Penguins, we have to look at it. These are not, the guys that you mentioned, are not guys that I’m pushing to trade.”
The Penguins are currently projected to have $6.37 million in cap space this summer, if the salary cap is set at $83 million.