With one signature along the dotted line the Penguins were able to significantly upgrade their lineup, while at the same time putting a dent into the roster of one of their chief rivals in the Atlantic Division, by signing free agent defenseman Paul Martin
to a five-year contract on Thursday.
Martin, 29, comes to Pittsburgh after spending his entire six-year career with the New Jersey Devils.
“It’s a little different feeling being in one spot for so long and playing against Pittsburgh in the same division,” Martin said. “That said people switch teams like that all the time. It’s the nature of the business. I’m looking forward to it. It should be fun.”
Martin became the second high-profile free-agent defenseman to sign with the Penguins on the opening day of free agency, following former Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek
, who inked a five-year deal earlier on Thursday.
“Paul is a really smooth skating defenseman, great stick, good defensively, and his offensive production might be a little bit better than what he’s had in the past,” general manager Ray Shero said. “He’s a real solid all-around player. He can play lots of minutes, an effortless skater.”
Much like Michalek, Martin likes the strength the Penguins have built on defense.
“Pittsburgh has been able to win a Cup recently and that proves that Ray and his staff know what they are doing there,” Martin said. “I think adding guys like Michalek and myself will help out. If we can make the back end better and help out (Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre) Fleury that will help improve the defense. I think it is a good solid core here and it will be fun working with the guys.”
While it was tough for Martin to leave a good situation in New Jersey, where the team had won four division titles and made six playoff appearances during his six years with the team, Martin found it enticing to join a Penguins team which still has a majority of the core remaining from its 2009 Stanley Cup championship team and plays in front of the top fan base in the National Hockey League.
“Every time we came in there I thought the fans were great,” Martin said. “They always have a lot of passion and energy. I’m sure that atmosphere will only improve when we open (CONSOL Energy Center).”
Whereas Michalek will offer the Penguins a defensive, shutdown presence, Martin is more of a two-way defender capable of chipping in both offensively and defensively.
|Paul Martin brings a solid two-way game to the Penguins after six years with division rival New Jersey. Credit - Getty Images |
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound blueliner has scored 30 or more points in three of his five full NHL seasons while posting a plus-55 rating in 400 career games. The Minneapolis, Minnesota native projected to have his best offensive numbers this past season, but a broken forearm limited him to just 22 games.
Martin first fractured his left forearm blocking a shot against the Penguins at Mellon Arena on Oct. 24, then suffered a setback in December when he had to have surgery after it was determined the bone wasn’t healing properly. Unfortunately the injury, which sidelined Martin for 59 games, caused him to withdraw from the United States Olympic Team.
However, once Martin returned – ironically against the Penguins on March 17 in New Jersey – he came back with a bang. Martin scored that night against Pittsburgh and finished the year with two goals, nine points and a plus-nine rating in 13 games to close out the season.
Martin believes his strong finish proved he has fully recovered from his forearm injury and provides a glimpse to Penguins fans as to what he will provide Pittsburgh throughout the next five years.
“I was just happy to get back on the ice it had been so long,” Martin said. “To be able to put up some points while not playing that many minutes just coming back felt good. Everything is good with my wrist and it is 100 percent so that is good that I don’t have to worry about that. I hope to build off of that moving forward.”
Martin is expected to see time on the point with the Penguins alongside youngsters Kris Letang
and Alex Goligoski. The left-handed shooting Martin has experience with such a role after seeing plenty of minutes serving as the power-play quarterback at times for the Devils.
Two years ago Martin recorded 18 (2G-16A) of his 33 points on the man-advantage. He hopes to see those numbers increase with the Penguins as he lines up with the likes of Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
and Co. after trying to contain those guys for so many years.
“They have so much speed, talent and offense there that I think it will make much easier because they make everyone around them better,” Martin said. “Hopefully I can contribute there as I work with those guys. Playing with them is a huge reason I am heading to Pittsburgh.”