As free agency quickly approaches, the Devils face a significant question – which big-name free agent do they pursue, Paul Martin or Ilya Kovalchuk? Both are impact players, and both are a huge asset to the team. While the Devils have almost $16 million to spend, both will command big money. Facing this decision, I’ll debate the pros and cons of deciding to sign either Martin or Kovalchuk. Today’s post focuses on Martin, a homegrown talent who's shown he can produce at the NHL level.
When Martin came into the league in 2003-2004, the defenseman was expected to become one of the team’s better defenders. Ex-Devil David Hale and Martin were tagged as the next Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, respectively. Martin enjoyed a successful rookie campaign, playing in 70 games and recording 24 points (six goals, 18 assists). After returning from the lockout in 2005-2006, Martin increased his total games, skating in 80 games. He upped his point total to 37, with five goals and 32 assists, his highest point total in his career. Since then, he’s been a consistent producer, totaling 25+ points until last season, when he missed significant time with injury.
Martin has continually improved not only his own play, but the team’s play as well. Some advanced hockey statistics, such as Corsi %, tag Martin as one of the better unrestricted free agents of the summer. He’s been a workhorse for this team in his career, playing significant time even strength and skating on both the power play and penalty kill. As his stats show, Martin has offensive potential, and he shows a knack for setting up teammates. A look further at his stats can give more depth to Martin’s skills.
Martin At Even Strength
One of the first areas I’ll discuss is Martin’s play during 5-on-5 situations. Since last year provided such a small sample size, I’ll refer to 2008-2009 as my basis for analysis. In his own zone, Martin played sound hockey. As you can read at Behind the Net, when Martin was on the ice, shots against and goals against both went down. Only Mike Mottau had better goals against statistics than Martin. Clearly, Martin is a responsible defenseman in his own zone. But what about his offensive zone play?
Martin’s 2008-2009 offensive zone play was subpar at best. His 14 even-strength points ranked third on the team behind ex-Devil Johnny Oduya (23) and White (15). Martin’s 14 even-strength points tied him for 81st in the league. His shots on goal weren’t impressive either. His 107 shots ranked one behind team leader Johnny Oduya and 59th in the league. By looking at these stats, you could figure that Martin didn’t contribute much to the team’s goals for per 60 minutes. And he didn’t, only providing a -0.3 differential. But he did improve the shots for per 60 minutes, giving them an average of 2.5 shots when he was on the ice.
Martin’s offensive numbers don’t overwhelm you, and that’s one of the main drawbacks for the defenseman. We’ve all expected Martin to become a Niedermayer-like player, leading the offensive charge on the blue line. But the only stat he’s really improved is the team’s overall shots. During even strength play, Martin hasn’t had an immense impact offensively. But maybe the powerplay will show some different statistics.
Continue reading after the jump for Martin’s powerplay and penalty killing statistics!
Martin on the Powerplay
Throughout the years, Martin has been expected to produce on the powerplay. At times, he’s been the only defenseman skating on the man advantage. He’s never really fulfilled the expectations of a powerplay “quarterback”, but the stats show he’s positively contributed to the team’s man advantage.
In 2008-2009, Martin contributed 18 points on the powerplay (two goals, 16 assists), which ranked highest on the team. But those 18 points only put Martin in a tie for 34th in the league. But the point total doesn’t tell the whole story. In 2008-2009, Martin excelled on the man advantage, contributing almost four goals to the team’s goal differential when on the ice during a powerplay. He also contributed positively to the team’s shot total while on the ice.
The stats tell an interesting story. Several fans (myself included) believed that Martin struggled on the powerplay. It seemed like one of the main reasons why the team signed Brian Rolston – to man the points on the powerplay. But the stats tell a different tale. While Martin doesn’t put up gaudy powerplay numbers, he’s an effective contributor to the team’s man advantage.
Martin on the Penalty Kill
In the third and final look at Martin, I turn to his play while on the penalty kill. It’s important for defenseman to play well, especially when facing the opposition’s best scorers. Does Martin have a significant impact on the penalty kill? The stats show Martin is average.
Two stats from Behind the Net are considered here – shots against per 60 and goals against per 60. During the penalty kill, Martin’s impact on shots is a negative one. When on the ice in 5-on-4 penalty kill situations in 2008-2009, Martin allowed the opposition an extra three shots on net. While this should lead to a negative impact in the goals against per 60 category, Martin’s stats show the exact opposite. While on the ice in these situations, the opposition’s goals dipped by 1.69. So while Martin allows an increase in spot, one could argue these shots aren’t quality opportunities. Martin seems to be an average to slightly above average penalty killer, based on these statistics.
So, what does all of the information mean for the Devils? The stats make a case that Martin is worth resigning. The Devils won’t get a greater offensive impact, but they will retain a player who seems to add something positive to the powerplay. Also, his assists numbers from the past few seasons have been great, which means he can create plays and make things happen. Martin gives the team solid production on the powerplay, and his penalty-killing ability won’t hurt the team.
Martin hasn’t always lived up to expectations in a Devils’ uniform. He never became the powerplay quarterback, and I’m sure we’d all like to see some more goals. But in taking a look at this year’s free agent defenseman, Martin sticks out as one of the top players. If the Devils decide to re-sign Martin, they know they will receive a solid defenseman who knows the system well. I believe the team will make a push and ultimately sign Martin. It’ll be a smart decision, as his presence improves the strength and play of the Devils’ defense.
Photo Credits: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images and NJ.com