Paul Martin’s season followed in the footsteps of his most regular defensive partner, Brent Burns. Martin improved in just about every measurable capacity since the previous year, and that has to be at least partially attributed to the play of the man with whom Martin spent over 87% of his ice time. His rolling Corsi chart looks like we just took Burns’ chart and moved it down one percentage point. This isn’t too shocking, as the man who led the NHL in shots should probably have a higher rate of shot attempts by a fair margin.
Martin continued to be deployed in his capacity as the wookie’s handler this year, similar to the way he was used to shadow Kris Letang in Pittburgh. As such, Martin’s statistics saw improvement across the board commensurate with the career defining season of his partner. Martin improved in points (26), goals (4), and assists (22) all while skating over a minute less per game (probably due to the coaching staff having more trust in the Schlemko-Dillon pairing than in the rotating cast of DeMelo and Mueller with a dash of Polak from the previous year).
In a year where the Sharks possession numbers took a slight step back, Martin’s improved, where he posted a comfortable 51.73% Corsi for. This may have something to do with Martin spending slightly more time with and against lower line forwards. Martin spent a majority of his time against third line forwards and second pair defenders, not surprising as head coach DeBoer continues to put Burns in position to annihilate.
Martin also seemed to establish himself further as a veteran presence on the team. In his tenth NHL season, Martin was used effectively to cover any missed assignments high in the offensive zone or to cover for Burns’ rover pinches. As a result, if the Sharks do decide to skew younger in the coming years, Martin seems to be making himself an important part of that plan.
2016-17 Sharks 5v5 Usage Chart (via Corsica Hockey)
Paul Martin Rolling 25-game score, zone, and venue-adjusted average CF% (via Corsica Hockey)
Paul Martin Hero Chart (via Own The Puck):
This may come as a surprise to many of you, but Paul Martin is not really a highlight reel player. I wanted to find a play that shows Martin’s responsibility, poise, and vision. In a January 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, Martin corrals a pass from Ryan Carpenter that may have been headed out to Burns at the point. This pulls defenders Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn toward him on the half wall, opening up space for Carpenter to cycle back out. Martin loses Johnson with a cute little spin move, feeds the puck to Carpenter, and the latter bombs it through an Anton Stralman screen to open the scoring. Really clever little sequence.
What comes next?
Martin is a valuable veteran presence on a team with more younger players every year (which every team is, these days). Signed through 2019 at a reasonable cap hit of $4.85 million AAV, Martin should be a stable on the Sharks’ blue line for the next few years.
Wait, what? Expansion draft? Oh. Oh dear.
On the off chance the Sharks elect to protect only three defenders from the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s a possibility that Paul Martin will play next season wearing a new and strange jersey with a Spartan helmet on it for some reason. I expect the Sharks to protect four blue liners, one of them being Martin, but that leads to a decision to expose either Melker Karlsson or Chris Tierney, and that could throw a proverbial wrench into the Sharks’ future plans.