Last season, Paul Martin continued to emerge as one of the league's better defenders. Others are beginning to notice. For example, James Mirtle ranked him in the top 10 in his Rod Langway Award for top defensive defensemen, the top Devil on his list. And I'm sure GMs across the league are paying attention considering he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Something I'm already worried about, but the point is that Martin is very, very good at what he does.
This should be no surprise to Devils fans. He is unquestionably the leader of the Devils' blueline and when he's not there, it really shows. The stats really back up his status as the team's #1 defenseman. Last season, Martin led the team in average ice time with 24:22 per game, shorthanded time on ice with 3:29 per game, and power play time on ice with 3:20 per game. He led the blueline in assists (28) and in points (33).
Most impressive are his 2008-09 even strength on-ice/off-ice numbers from Behind the Net. Martin faced the highest quality of competition (0.041) while not having the highest quality of teammates (0.028, fourth on the team). This makes sense as he was the Devils' top defenseman and therefore usually plays against the team's best players. Considering this, the shots against per 60 when Martin is not on the ice was 27.1 and that dropped to 24.8 shots against per 60 when he was on the ice. Yes. It dropped over 2 shots per 60 minutes while facing tougher opponents than the other defenders on the team. And it wasn't at the sacrifice of offense, as Martin's CORSI is a strong 9.3; shots for per 60 jumped from 27.3 to 30.2 when Martin was on the ice. In terms of goals against, the goals against per 60 did fall from 2.02 to 1.87 when Martin was out there.
My point? Martin is excellent on defense. At age 28, entering his sixth season of pro hockey, he's in the prime of his career. The big question for Martin is how much more can we realistically expect out of him?
|2008 - Paul Martin||73||5||28||33||21||36||2||0||1||0||107||4.7|
Defensively, it's pretty straightforward in my opinion. I expect him to do as well as he did last season. That means playing the most minutes among the Devils defenders and continue to make a difference on-ice in terms of shots and goals against. Again, Martin succeeded in both last season, so it's not really an unrealistic expectation. I certainly think he can, of course. I think that Martin can improve his strength and his offense.
In terms of physical play, Martin is definitely not a banger. Martin is 6'1" and 195 pounds and he threw 40 hits (officially) and blocked 79 shots (officially) last season - placing Martin fifth on the team in both stats. Now, given how effective Martin has been on defense - especially last season - I'm not saying that he needs to become an aggressive hitter. Not at all. His style is fine as is. What I am suggesting is that Martin gets stronger or constantly flop in shooting lanes to get a block. This will ensure that he won't be beaten up by bigger, stronger, and/or more aggressive forwards and continue staying in position. It isn't really a big expectation that I have for Martin; really, it's something he can improve on. I think he may benefit from it, but if he remains at 195 pounds or so, it's not the end of the world.
What I really do expect to improve are his offensive contributions. The only reason I think why NHL GMs and pundits aren't lauding Martin as a #1 defenseman is his offense. The production and the skillset isn't "there," so to speak. Martin did lead the Devils blueline in points; but 33 points puts him 43rd in the league overall - tied with Kris Letang, Joni Pitkanen, and Roman Hamrlik. Now, a quick look at his career numbers shows that the only time Martin ever had 10 or more goals in a season was back with Elk River High School in 1997-98. I don't honestly believe Martin will develop a big shot from the point or that he'll become a Devils defenseman goal scoring machine. 5-7 goals are fine.
That said, I want Martin to get more involved on the Devils offense more often. Taking 107 shots last season was a career high and a good first start. But I'd like to see him be more aggressive on the point. Too often, after the Devils set up last season, he'd make a safe pass to his defensive partner or to a forward along the offensive zone faceoff circles. In some of those situations, he really should have considered shooting it or looking for a Devil down low for a scoring chance. Considering he'll be out there with the Devils' top 6 forwards more often than not as well as getting significant power play time, he'll have the teammates to turn those passes/rebounds-from-shots into dangerous shots on net. In short, I want Martin to make more chances with the puck. I think it's the only shot he has at cracking 40 points - Martin's career high is 5-32-37.
Paul Martin is very important to the Devils' blueline and as such I think we can comfortably expect him to remain important and remain a defensive force. I am expecting him to put up more assists, though, at least 30 should be the goal. A cynical person may say that's entirely possible since it's a contract year for him. However, Martin's in the prime of his career and I think he will have the opportunities to achieve at least 35 points. He'll still remain as the Devils #1 defenseman and next June, we'll be hoping he sticks around.
Now it's time to have your say. Do you think Martin has it in him to get at least 35 points or more? Would you just be happy if he just has a similar performance to last season? Or do you, somehow, expect less from Martin? Let's discuss what we should expect out of Paul Martin next season in the comments.