Paul Martin: The Most Effective Defenseman Available on the Market This Summer

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 11: Paul Martin #7 of the New Jersey Devils gets away from Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres at the Prudential Center on April 11, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Over the last few days, I've focused a lot of attention on New Jersey Devils defenseman Paul Martin.   Before jumping into this final post about Martin (for at least the next few days), I'd like to explain what has gone on - in case you all missed it.  It all started back when I did an entire overview of the Devils' free agents for the upcoming summer.  Here's what I said about Martin:

A quick look at the UFA defensemen for summer of 2010 shows that Paul Martin could very well be the only player on the market who can lead a defense who isn't over 30.   Yeah, Paul Martin's going to get paid this summer.   Combine that with the fact that the Devils have only Andy Greene as a two-way defenseman, and keeping Martin is almost a must for New Jersey in my view.   I thought Andy Greene was great in this past season, but I'd feel a lot more comfortable with Martin as the #1 instead of hoping Greene can repeat his 09-10 season.

Therefore, to confirm what I initially thought, I started looking at Paul Martin's effectiveness as a defenseman beyond what simple point totals or ice time would say.  I first began with a With Or Without You analysis to demonstrate that Paul Martin largely has a positive effect on most of his teammate's Corsi% - the percentage that the Devils are attacking more so than the opposition.  

I decided to dig deeper. Defense is a part of the game that isn't easily noticeable so aspects like hits or blocked shots stand out more.   Behind the Net tabulates on-ice and off-ice numbers for every player in the league, and what better way to determine how effective a defenseman really was?  If a defenseman is really among the best in the league, then he should have a positive impact on his team when he steps on the ice.  I focused on shots against per 60 minutes (SA/60), goals against per 60 minutes (GA/60), shots for per 60 minutes (SF/60), and goals for per 60 minutes (GF/60); both their numbers on the ice as well as the on-impact, the difference between the stat for that player off the ice and on the ice.  With the help of Derek Zona, I added adjusted Corsi/60 to emphasize each defenseman's own Corsi value (amount of shot attempts by team, higher is better) while accounting for where they initially started on the ice.

Since Paul Martin's 2009-10 season was cut short by injury, I decided to do this for two seasons: 2008-09, which was Martin's last full season, and 2009-10, Martin's most recent season.  Through doing two seasons, we can see if any defensemen have improved or not. For even strength, I decided to compare Martin only with those who have played at least 20 games and had a Time On Ice per 60 of 15.  For special teams, I kept the same minimum game requirement, but reduced the TOI/60 minimum to 1.  Admittedly, I feel that even strength performance is far more important since a majority of a hockey game is going to be played at 5-on-5, a top defenseman must be able to perform well there to contribute.  In any case, through this criteria, Martin has been compared with other defenseman who have played significant minutes for their team in either season. 

Note: I'm focusing on regular seasons only because the sheer lack of games in the playoffs make it difficult for comparisons.  Do I compare someone who's only played 5 to someone who's played over 20? What about those who didn't make the playoffs at all?  In a 4-to-7 game series, someone can get hot or cold and throw it off.  At least in 20 games, the effect of someone being "on fire" can be muted.

Besides, if he has to be replaced, then we'll have a much better idea of who would be suitable to take his spot - much better than just demanding a blueliner who scored 50 points once upon a time or is a big guy who supposedly knows how to shut people down.   Here, the goal was to find evidence of who has an impact on the ice from the back.

In Part 1, I performed this analysis for the 2008-09 season, as Martin was stacked up against 123 defensemen.  In Part 2 (linked by Puck Daddy - thanks, Greg), the analysis turned to the 2009-10 season, where Martin was ranked among 132 defensemen.  In both Parts 1 and 2, Martin stood up very well in most statistical categories.   Part 3 took a look at his on-ice impact on special teams from both seasons. There, Martin didn't shine as much but he wasn't a drain on his team for the most part.

Upon request from ILWT user Zelepukin, I compared Martin's numbers generated and compiled for those three posts to those on his own team utilizing the same criteria.  Again, Martin was shown to the best defenseman overall in both 2008-09 and 2009-10.   However, the comments there still have some users thinking that letting Martin walk is the best idea.  If you think that way, fine, but all I ask is that you take a close look at this post.  This is where I will compare Martin to his fellow pending unrestricted free agent defensemen for the summer of 2010.   Again, I'm using the same criteria and numbers from the first three posts - but filtered out only for UFAs by cross-referencing names with the CapGeek 2010 UFA Finder. 

Please continue on after the jump to at least learn why I have found Paul Martin to be the most effective defenseman available on the UFA market for this summer. It is advised that you set this post to "Wide" before moving on to see the whole chart.     For the sake of simplicity and giant charts, I'll only be embedding the important ones.

NOTE: Any ranking highlighted in orange among the UFA defensemen means that player finished in the top 30 from the total population (UFAs and non-UFAs) in that stat. Thanks to ILWT user Matthew Gigawatts Maneri for the inspiration.

2008-09 Season

Power Play (5-on-4)

# of Defensemen Total who Met Game/Time Criteria: 127

# of 2010 UFA Defensemen who Met Game/Time Criteria: 26

Link to SF/60, GF/60 and On-Ice Impact Numbers among UFA Defensemen

Link to SF/60, GF/60 and On-Ice Impact Rankings among all 127

The rankings among the 26 pending UFA defensemen are as follows:

Martin_vs_ufa_08-09_pp_rank_among_medium

Back in 2008-09, your top power play contributors by these stats were Mike Van Ryn, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Rob Blake and Paul Martin. I'd also include Sergei Gonchar if only for being just outside the top 30 in two categories plus putting in over 5 TOI/60 on the man advantage.   Martin looks good here among his peers.  

The only ones who really stand out in a bad way, in terms of their 5-on-4 contributions in 08-09, were Darryl Sydor, Randy Jones, and Christoph Schubert.

Penalty Kill (4-on-5)

# of Defensemen Total who Met Game/Time Criteria: 187

# of 2010 UFA Defensemen who Met Game/Time Criteria: 50

Link to SA/60, GA/60 and On-Ice Impact Numbers among UFA Defensemen

Link to SA/60, GA/60 and On-Ice Impact Rankings among all 187

The rankings among the 50 pending UFA defensemen are as follows:

Martin_vs_ufa_08-09_pk_rank_among_medium

The only player who was somewhat consistently ranked high was Ruslan Salei, who finished in the top 30 in three stats (GA/60 was his shortcoming), and Francis Bouillon, who finished in the top 30 in only two stats but wasn't all that far off from the other two.   Most of this list appears that a defenseman either ranked well compared to his UFA peers in shots against but not goals against, or vice versa.

As far as UFA defensemen that shouldn't been seen as PK superheroes, Garnet Exelby stood out as ranking low across the board among his UFA peers. Derek Morris, Lukas Krajicek, and Adam Foote were also found to be poor contributors on the penalty kill relative to other UFA defensemen.

Martin didn't come close to the top 30 out of 187 in either stat, but he did finish above average among his fellow UFAs in all stats except for on-ice impact for shots against (SA/60 Differential)

Even Strength

# of Defensemen Total who Met Game/Time Criteria: 123

# of 2010 UFA Defensemen who Met Game/Time Criteria: 18

Link to Even Strength On-Ice and On-Ice Impact Numbers among UFA Defensemen

Link to Even Strength On-Ice and On-Ice Impact Rankings among all 123

The rankings among the 18 pending UFA defensemen are as follows:

Martin_vs_ufa_08-09_es_rank_among

Click here for the full-sized 2008-09 UFA ranking chart

Let's take a step back here.  Many more pending UFAs were found on special teams than on even strength. That definitely suggests to me that most of the market is full of lower end defensemen who may play a particular role moreso than anything else.    If we're going to consider how Paul Martin compares to his peers or even think of a replacement for him (or even Mike Mottau), then we can only consider defensemen who have played regularly.  That the total population dropped so much is striking.

Anyway, by using the metric of top 30 rankings, I organized the chart based on who was in that select group the most. I think a top defenseman should be in the best 25% in his position based on the game and time criteria.  Here's what stands out the most from this chart:

1) Only one defenseman had a SF/60 differential that ranked in the top 30 among the 123 group: Paul Martin. 

2) There are quite a few defensemen who didn't rank in the top 30 at all. This isn't to say that they are awful, just that they aren't elite.  Among them, Toni Lydman and Dan Hamhuis stood out the most in my eyes. Hamhuis was consistent across the board but not quite so well: no lower than 13th but no higher than 11th.   Lydman was usually no higher than 8th and only two stats below 10th, but there were some exceptions.

3) Mike Mottau may have faced the weakest competition (check the QUALCOMPs) on this list, but you can't say he didn't take full advantage with 5 top 30 rankings out of 9.

4) Proof of a shutdown defenseman: Anton Volchenkov led the UFA group in terms of SA/60 and on-ice impact of SA/60 (SA/60 Diff).  Very good from him.  He was good in GA/60 as well as a nice adjusted Corsi/60; but the offensive rankings at even strength were very poor.   Well, he was a shutdown defenseman in 2008-09.

5) Nicklas Lidstrom and Paul Martin lead the 2010 UFA class who made the 2008-09 list with six top 30 rankings out of a possible nine.  Among those stats, Lidstrom's most impressive in my eyes was his adjusted Corsi/60, which was a ridiculously high 17.51.  Martin's most impressive stat in my view was his SF/60; while not great among the 132 population, his 30.2 was the highest among all UFAs - and looks even better next to his SA/60 and GA/60 numbers.

A full season of Paul Martin playing regularly put him ahead of 16 other 2010-pending UFA defensemen back in 2008-09 at even strength.  He never finished below 9th in any stat from that season, which shows how well he stacks up against his soon-to-be fellow free agents. I don't know about you, but I find that to be huge in terms of emphasizing how great Martin was and can be with a full season.   Only Lidstrom matched him in terms of ranking so highly, and he's one of the greatest defensemen of all time.  That is excellent company to keep.

I'm sure some of you're thinking, "Great.  But as you keep saying, these are defensemen who are pending UFAs for this summer. You know as well as I do that GMs and their agents are going to focus on their most recent season more so than 2008-09."  A very good and valid point.  Let's move on to 2009-10, but do keep in mind Martin's excellent pedigree from 2008-09. 

Also keep in mind that those who met the criteria in 2008-09 may not have made it in 2009-10, and vice versa.

2009-10 Season

Power Play (5-on-4)

# of Defensemen Total who Met Game/Time Criteria: 118

# of 2010 UFA Defensemen who Met Game/Time Criteria: 25

Link to SF/60, GF/60 and On-Ice Impact Numbers among UFA Defensemen

Link to SF/60, GF/60 and On-Ice Impact Rankings among all 118

The rankings among the 25 pending UFA defensemen are as follows:

Martin_vs_ufa_09-10_pp_rank_among_medium

Scott Niedermayer and Sergei Gonchar, one season later, remained as two of the best defensemen in the game on the power play.  Nicklas Lidstrom will be considered among them though I'm totally confused as to how his SF/60 differential was so low.  Odd.  In terms of new names who stick out, Kurtis Foster was able to actually play some hockey after some serious injuries and helped out quite a bit on Tampa Bay's power play.  Marc-Andre Bergeron didn't contribute so much back in 08-09, but his numbers were significantly improved in this past season in Montreal.

Unless there's something about them that I don't know, it doesn't seem that based on their 2009-10 power play contributions on the ice that Mark Eaton, Brian Pothier, Jordan Leopold, and Kim Johnsson should be seen as defensemen who can seriously boost a power play

Paul Martin fared well in terms of contributing to SF/60 and SF/60 differential; but his GF/60 and GF/60 differential were much lower from how high it was back in 08-09.  Granted, Martin played in October, where the man advantage wasn't hot yet; but it was good overall in most of March and April.  I'm afraid I don't have an actual explanation to account for this. Still, the results are what they are: they show that he didn't contribute all that much to goals on the man advantage, especially relative to other UFA defensemen on the market this summer.

Penalty Kill (4-on-5)

# of Defensemen Total who Met Game/Time Criteria: 175

# of 2010 UFA Defensemen who Met Game/Time Criteria: 43

Link to SA/60, GA/60 and On-Ice Impact Numbers among UFA Defensemen

Link to SA/60, GA/60 and On-Ice Impact Rankings among all 175

The rankings among the 43 pending UFA defensemen are as follows:

Martin_vs_ufa_09-10_pk_rank_among_medium

At last, Andreas Lilja supporters have something to exalt: he was great in limited penalty killing action!  May Lilja get more PK time!

OK, seriously, there are a number of defensemen here who ranked very well among UFAs: Toni Lydman, Derek Morris (much improved over 08-09), and Mathieu Roy. While they may not have ranked in the top 30 in more than just one category (or at all), Anton Volchenkov, Jay Leach (in limited action), Niclas Wallin, Willie Mitchell, and Shaone Morrisson all did quite well.  Also, let me point out that Garnet Exelby improved in his contributions relative to his fellow free agents in 2009-10; good job for Exelby.

Paul Martin did quite well in terms of SA/60 and his on-ice impact on SA/60.  No problems there on the penalty kill. But the GA/60 - so bad.  Just awful.  Any GM looking to sign him should pause a little bit and perhaps even explore as to why that was poor. The low rankings there are almost in spite of the shots against rate dropping by just under 4 shots per 60 when he stepped on the ice.  

However, the most important section should make that only a pause.

Even Strength

# of Defensemen Total who Met Game/Time Criteria: 132

# of 2010 UFA Defensemen who Met Game/Time Criteria: 24

Link to Even Strength On-Ice and On-Ice Impact Numbers among UFA Defensemen

Link to Even Strength On-Ice and On-Ice Impact Rankings among all 132

The rankings among the 24 pending UFA defensemen are as follows:

Martin_vs_ufa_09-10_es_rank_among_large

Click here for the full 2009-10 UFA Ranking chart

So much can be discussed from here. 

Whereas in 08-09, Volchenkov was among the best in reducing SA/60; but he doesn't even stand out in 2009-10, he's among the worst in SA/60 differential - as in the SA/60 increased when he came on the ice. Very strange for a "shutdown" defenseman, no?  At least his offensive contributions improved from that season.  I'm sure anyone looking to sign him will hope he can defend like he did two seasons ago while providing the offense and Corsi from this past season.

Mike Mottau faced much tougher competition in this past season than he did in 08-09, and as such, he didn't rank in the top 30 in so many stats.  Not terribly bad across the board, honestly.

Some of the more improved names on this list in comparison with 08-09 include Derek Morris, Joe Corvo, Dennis Seidenberg, and Sergei Gonchar (most notably in SA/60).   The most improved players were Toni Lydman and Dan Hamhuis. Between the two, I'd prefer Hamhuis for his superior impact on shots against (Lydman was bad in that stat) and adjusted Corsi/60.  I think he'll command

The best "debut" to the even strength list was Adrian Aucoin as GF/60 was the only type of stat where he didn't rank highly among other UFA defensemen.  Excellent work by Aucoin in 2009-10.  Rob Blake got onto this list too, but his rankings were feast or famine for lack of a better term.

But the best remain the same from 2008-09: Lidstrom and Martin.  I'd say Lidstrom was better as he was more consistent across all stats in terms of ranking, and Martin had poor SF/60 numbers.  Still, Martin should be seen from this as fantastic as he yielded the best SA/60 and SA/60 on-ice impact in the entire league among the group of 132, much less.  Seriously, the shots against rate fell by 7.3 shots per 60 when he stepped on the ice, down to 18.9.  Forget Hamhuis and Volchenkov, that is shut-down defending - I defy you to tell me otherwise.

I rest my case. (For now.)

Before You Ask - Criticisms

How can you say that Martin's the most effective defenseman available on the market, when Lidstrom ranked just as highly as Martin and was vastly superior in some stats?

Age. Per CapGeek, Lidstrom is 40 and Martin is 29.  Given his storied career and his fantastic talent, he has absolutely nothing left to prove in hockey.  Per Winging It in Motown, he's seriously considering retirement. So I cna't say he's really "available" at this juncture. Even if he chooses to keep playing, why in the world would Lidstrom go into the open market now?  Would teams want to splash the cash for a 40-year old defenseman?  I mean, I love Lidstrom's game but I'd doubt it out of fear that he can't continue his excellent play. (I think he would be able to if he goes for another season, but it's a fear all the same.)

Martin is in the prime of his career and put up the numbers he did both before and after his first serious injury of his career.  There's no reason to believe he won't be sought after by multiple teams if he decides to test the waters.  The above as well as all of the other Paul Martin posts

Is this really enough games to evaluate Paul Martin upon?

I focused on Martin's most recent work as that's likely how he'll be judged by other teams determining whether to consider adding him to their roster.  In those two seasons, Martin played for two different coaches; had multiple defensive partners in Johnny Oduya, Martin Skoula, and Bryce Salvador; and still managed to perform very well among his own teammates and in comparison to other UFA defensemen.  

In retrospect, I could look into 2007-08 from Behind the Net.  Short of Martin looking miserable, I think all it would do would either add some doubt that arguable his 08-09 and (to a point) his 09-10 season answer; or it would confirm the effectiveness of Martin as a defenseman.  This isn't to say it's not a valid point; I may do that anyway, just not right now.

What about GVT or other ways of measuring defensemen's performance?

I welcome all other alternative looks.  I didn't use GVT as it's a results-based stat where players who only played the part of a season are hurt by the calculation.  But I'd be interested in other takes.  Feel free to make a FanPost or point me to someone else's analysis of Martin, UFA defensemen in 2010, or defensemen in general.   I'd be happy to learn more.

Conclusion

In short:

Compared to his teammates, he has been the best Devils defenseman overall in the last two seasons. A player who has contributed plenty to most of his teammate's Corsi% in this past season. Compared to his peers, he has stacked up very well in both 2008-09 and 2009-10. 

The only downfall are his special team numbers.  But his even strength performances cannot be overshadowed by them - again, a majority of the game's played at 5-on-5 and Martin has proven from 2008 through 2010 that he's got the goods.   Now, it has been shown that he's relatively the best among pending UFA defensemen.  Only Lidstrom has matched him for the number of stats where he'd rank highly among other defensemen in the defined time and game criteria.   And Lidstrom may not even be available at all.

To me, it's clear: Paul Martin is the most effective defenseman available on the market this summer, and definitely among the league's best.    I don't see how it can be honestly argued otherwise given his on-ice impact across these past two seasons.

What did you think of all of this work, as well as the conclusions?   Please let me know in the comments.

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