The Pittsburgh Penguins have just been eliminated from the 2013/2014 NHL Playoffs – yet another disappointing season since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. As a result GM Ray Shero has already been relieved of his duties and HC Dan Bylsma’s future with the Penguins depends on the decision of the new GM, once Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle have decided who the new GM will be.
However, the Penguins won’t leave it at just changing the coaching staff and the management. Although a complete overhaul isn’t necessary, like CEO Dave Morehouse pointed out more than once during last Friday’s press conference, one or another huge change regarding to the Penguins roster is more than likely and necessary. So not much of a surprise that the trade rumors are already heating up and even less of a surprise that many of those trade rumors include Pittsburgh’s star defenseman Kris Letang.
The only Penguins defensemen available for a huge, blockbuster-like trade, causing a shake up when it comes to the roster AND the salary cap, are Paul Martin and Kris Letang.
Should the Penguins consider trading either of them? And if so, who should it be?
In my opinion, they should trade Paul Martin – without hesitation.
The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Paul Martin to a 5-year contract worth $25 million at the beginning of the 2010/11 NHL season. But things didn’t work well for Martin as he struggled for large stretches of his first two seasons with the Penguins. That’s why GM Ray Shero invited Paul Martin into his office at the end of the 2011/12 NHL season and asked his defenseman whether he wants to get traded or not.
But Paul Martin didn’t want to take the easy way out!
“I do not want to be traded. I came here for a reason, and you signed me for a reason. If I do come back, you’re going to see a different player.” – Paul Martin to Ray Shero
And Martin has been good to his word, playing a tremendous 2012/13 season with his partner Brooks Orpik, earning his roster spot on the 2014 US Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team. Martin didn’t have that much luck this season as injuries limited him to play only 39 regular season games, in which he didn’t play as solid as last year.
However it didn’t go without notice that Paul Martin has become an important defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins as he has currently been one of the more outstanding players of the Penguins during the playoffs, especially since he played alongside Kris Letang, also one of the better Pittsburgh players against the Rangers.
So why should the Penguins trade Paul Martin?
Here is a short comparison of the Penguins’ two highest-paid defenseman (as of the 2014/15 season) – Kris Letang and Paul Martin.
There’s no doubt the Penguins have been a better team this season once Letang and Martin have been in the lineup than they have been without them. But that’s only half the story. It also seems like the Penguins have been better with just one of Letang OR Martin in the lineup than they have been once both played. (But it has to be mentioned that these stats are based on games in which Letang and Martin haven’t been paired up regularly. The Letang-Martin defensive pairing has actually looked pretty good during the playoffs.)
However, Letang is just 26 years old, more talented, just entering the prime of his career and has an 8 year contract with the Penguins. On the other hand Paul Martin is “already” 33 years old and has just one year left on his current contract.
The upcoming off-season is the ideal time to trade him as long as the Penguins still get something in return for his defenseman. Paul Martin is a very mobile, two-way defenseman with very good skills and strong skating. He gets some momentums now and then and is capable of playing on the power play and the penalty kill. He is not the most physical player and sometimes can’t counter against strong opponents, but he can knock down an opposing player at times, too. All in one he is a great veteran player who has a good size and way of play both in the offensive and defensive zone.
There are many franchises in desperate need of a player like Martin (for example the Edmonton Oilers). Of course Paul Martin has a say in that matter with his limited NTC, but that doesn’t mean there’s no chance of getting done a good deal for both sides.
Why shouldn’t the Penguins trade Kris Letang?
I already wrote an article about why the Penguins should keep their star defenseman, but in order to point it out once again: Kris Letang is one of, if not THE best skater in the NHL. His speed, vision, agility, slick stickwork and ability to skate the puck out of the defensive zone instead of icing the puck belong to the best of the league. He’s furthermore a very physical player when it’s needed and even more important, he can AND is willing to do all the little “nasty things” which are also needed for successful playoffs. Letang is able to put up 30 minutes per game on the same pace night in and out, capable of playing in every situation of the game. He’s able to make passes the average player doesn’t make or even think of, passes non-average players like Crosby and Malkin want AND need to shine. He is without a doubt one of the best offensive defensemen once he’s healthy and on top of his game and he’s further a good solid defensive defenseman.
I lately read many comments that Letang should get traded. The Penguins already have $55.1 million committed to 14 players next year. That means the Pens just have around $14 million left to add another 9 players to their roster. Not that much money to use for a partial rebuild. So many people’s argument: “Let’s get rid of Letang’s 8-year contract worth $58 million in order to free up a cap space of $7.25 million per year. ”
Well, getting rid of the biggest contract (if not looking at Malkin and Crosby) may make sense, if just mathematically thinking about this “problem”. But we shouldn’t do that!
First of all, Martin’s salary of $5 million per year isn’t really less than Letang’s salary. So trading Martin and freeing up $5 million cap space already gives the Penguins more room for maneuver! Second: What happens if the Penguins don’t trade Martin. Well, he’d probably play another tremendous season for the Penguins, but he would be an UFA after this season. And then? Re-sign another 34+ years old player to a $5+ million deal, even if it’s just a short-term contract? Or let him go without getting anything in return? That would leave the Penguins behind without Martin and Letang! Pittsburgh’s defensive prospects are great, no doubt! But the hole teared in the Penguins defense through this move would be too big! There’s no need to put that much pressure on guys like Maatta, Pouliot and Harrington. Furthermore, Letang will still have a high trade value in 2-3 years. Yes, he will have a modified NTC then. To be exact, he can submit a 12-team no-trade list prior to each season. However, that would still leave 18 teams, which probably wouldn’t hesitate to trade for a player like Letang! So I don’t see there much of a “risk”, if the Penguins keep Letang, not at all!
I have to add, that I’m also of the opinion that the Penguins shouldn’t re-sign Matt Niskanen. He played a great season, there’s no doubt about that. But he also benefited from the injuries to Letang, Martin, Orpik & Scuderi and let’s not forget that it was his contract season. The point in time many players are generating the best season of their entire career. The Penguins do right, if they don’t afford the type of contract (salary + contract length) Niskanen will ask for! So I don’t see a trade-Letang-and-keep-Niskanen-move as option the Penguins should consider.
To sum it up: The kind of shake up the Penguins need after another disappointing playoffs also requires a so-called “hockey trade” and trading Paul Martin would be that kind of trade!
The Pens should use Martin and his $5 million salary cap in order to get and afford a younger top 6 winger for either Crosby or Malkin or, actually even more important, to rebuild/restructure their bottom 6 with strong and powerful, but skilled 3rd/4th line players.
Don’t get me wrong, Paul Martin is a great defenseman, but the Penguins are loaded with great defensive prospects and his style of game is replaceable. Players like Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin are NHL ready. The Pens can’t keep them down in Wilkes-Barre forever. They have to give them the chance to become regular NHL players such as Maatta got. They probably won’t get a real chance if Martin (and a player like Niskanen) stay(s). That’s what Simon Despres experienced; that’s what destroyed Despres’ trade value.
And that’s another main reason why the Penguins should trade Paul Martin.
No doubt, Simon Despres is responsible himself for not being a NHL regular yet. He obviously didn’t obtain the coaches’ confidence as his body language after getting scratched wasn’t as positive as Olli Maatta’s body language has been like in that kind of situations. However, I also heavily blame the coaching staff and the management therefor. Simon Despres often was a healthy scratch even after he had a strong game! Maatta got the chance to keep on playing even if he showed a bad effort the game before. Maatta got the chance to fight through bad games, to fight through bad performances. You’re learning by making mistakes, but furthermore you need the chance to correct these mistakes sooner rather than later. Instead, Despres often got scratched for a couple of games. To point that out once again: I don’t want to compare Despres and Maatta. They definitely showed totally different efforts and way more important, different attitudes and work ethics.
But every young player needs a fair chance to show his potential, to become a regular NHL player. They need a fair chance to grow with the challenge and to learn from mistakes!
Simon Despres didn’t get this kind of fair chance (yet). Therefor Despres started struggling & losing confidence and that also destroyed his trade value.
The glorious “era” of the Pittsburgh Penguins might be still ahead of them, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still in their prime and arguably one of the best, if not the best defense of the league in the not too distant future.
Ray Shero loaded the Penguins with high-talented defensemen. Now it’s time to make the needed moves in order to benefit from that.
– Benedikt Bäumler