DeBoer, Wilson see Paul Martin as partner for Brent Burns
Veteran could be a stabilizing presence alongside the Sharks' wild card on defense.
During the Sharks' official announcement that they've signed defenseman Paul Martin to a 4-year, $19.4 million contract both head coach Peter DeBoer and general manager Doug Wilson mentioned the 34-year-old defense-oriented blueliner could be a perfect fit as offensive wild card Brent Burns' partner. DeBoer, an assistant coach on the gold medal-winning Canadian World Championship team, compared Martin to Vancouver blueliner Dan Hamhuis whom Burns skated alongside of on that squad en route to winning the tournament's top defenseman honors.
It's a natural fit for Martin, who played much of the best hockey of his Penguins career as the defensive conscience for Kris Letang, another talented offensive defenseman. In the more than 1300 5-on-5 minutes those two shared the ice for over the past five years, Pittsburgh controlled 56.6% of shot attempts and scored 62.3% of the goals. What makes Martin such an ideal fit for Burns, at least on paper, is that he brings a lot more to the table from a puck-moving standpoint than players like Douglas Murray, Brad Stuart or even Marc-Edouard Vlasic, all of whom have been penciled in as potential Burns partners in the past.
A good chunk of Burns' defensive struggles in his first season back on the blueline this past year stemmed from his inability to regularly complete seemingly simple tape-to-tape breakout passes. According to Corey Sznajder's All Three Zones tracking project, with Pittsburgh in the 2013-14 season Martin was able to successfully exit the defensive zone while retaining possession of the puck via pass or carry on 26.5% of his attempts to, turning it over just 5.5% of the time. Both percentages are nearly identical to what Dan Boyle, an elite puck-mover, managed that season with the Sharks. More than just being reliable in his own zone, Martin is a partner Burns can send the puck to when hounded by forecheckers and expect a clean breakout.
It'll be interesting to see what the ice time distribution looks like on the Sharks' blueline next season if Martin and Burns are paired. Presumably that means Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun remain intact as the team's primary shutdown pair, which makes Braun bouncing back from a disappointing season all the more important. Brenden Dillon will start on the third pair but forcing him to play his off side with Mirco Mueller didn't work out well at all for San Jose down the stretch last season. With about $5 million in cap space left, the Sharks should still be in the market for a depth defenseman who can play the right side.