There is a certain type of Pittsburgh Penguins fan that a few of us on PenguinPoop that have followed the Pens since the ’70′s discuss all the time. You probably are more familiar with the Steelers version of the fan, the ones that always think the backup QB is the one that should be playing.
When Paul Martin, a shut down defenseman who doesn’t score and doesn’t throw big checks was signed to a $5 million dollar per year contract at the opening free agency a year and a half ago he was basically set up for failure. Well, failure with these particular fans that is.
Luckily for Martin, when he started the fans already had a most hated player of the moment and that was Alex Goligoski. Goligoski couldn’t win. He had the best defensive +/- in all the NHL and was scoring like crazy, well, like crazy for a defenseman with a $1.5 million dollar contract, but once fans had a name and a target and that’s all they needed.
Martin’s luck ran out the day the Penguins traded Alex Goligoski to Dallas for James Neal. It wasn’t simply the fact that the fans no longer had their “whipping boy”, the Penguins also were able to get a quality winger for Goligoski. If they got that for Goligoski imagine how good of a winger you could get with Martin’s $5 million a year salary just kept dancing through these people’s heads like sugar plums.
The only thing that saved Martin last year was that these fans stopped paying attention to the Penguins because both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were out with injuries.
Bring on the 2011/2012 season and these particular Penguins fans finally found the crack in the armor they were searching for, Martin who was supposed to be a great shut down defenseman doesn’t only have a plus/minus in the negative numbers, it’s the worst on the team. Target acquired.
Part two, or The picking apart of Paul Martin has worked it’s way up from the minor leagues into the pro’s. (This is the part where I stick up for Martin. If your having trouble continuing, you may be the fan I was talking about above)
Pittsburgh journalists and talk show hosts who found listeners and readers slowly tired of the Sidney Crosby skated today and then drank some water talk have found new hope for readership and callers in the “Paul Martin needs to go” crowd.
In the chat transcript of Dejan Kovacevic of the Trib-Review, Dejan said “It’s a constant struggle for Martin, positionally, with the puck and otherwise. The coaches see it, too, trust me.”
I’m sorry, last years MVP coach Dan Bylsma does NOT see it, or Bylsma really must struggle with understanding how to utilize a so called struggling defenseman.
Martin who missed 6 games to a lower body injury has played more minutes than every other Penguins player this year. Even lately, the last two games Martin leads the entire team in playing time. Either Bylsma doesn’t know how to coach or he isn’t as down on Martin’s play as Dejan would have you think.
Martin is the guy coach Bylsma places on the ice against the best players in the league and for what it’s worth, Martin leads the Penguins defensive core in takeaways. Paul Martin is a big part of the reason the Penguins have the second least amount of shots against them per game in the NHL and you can sit comfortably watching the Penguins kill off penalties to the tune of third best penalty kill in the NHL.
Paul Martin does have the teams worst plus/minus at -10. Minus four of which can be attributed to Sundays game against Buffalo, a game that saw Martin on the ice for two easy goals against goalie Brent Johnson who was pulled early again. Even though it was the Pens second game in as many days, Martin once again got the biggest load of ice time, five and a half minutes more than Kris Letang who was also a -4 for the game.
Confidence is something that can make or break a defenseman in the NHL and Martin has been one to admit that perhaps all this talk brings down his game “I’m at my best when I’m just playin’ and skating and not getting too worried about what people are saying” Martin said.
Night after night when Martin goes out and does his thankless job against the best in the league and the fans rip him apart on their way out of a tied game with five minutes left. Keep in mind. Paul Martin was coveted by many teams and could have went anywhere, he chose to sign with the Penguins. He has a limited no trade clause in his contract and probably isn’t going anywhere for a good while, so destroying his confidence is only going to hurt the team.