Top-10 UFA Countdown: #5 Paul Martin

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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

This is a series counting down the top-10 pending UFAs. It will be posted across the Nation Network over the next month! Enjoy!

Paul Martin, 34, is getting a bit long in the tooth, but he remains a sturdy defensive defender with the ability to transition the puck and win the territorial matchup against top-of-the-roster competition. If you’re sensing that the theme of our unrestricted free agent countdown is “he’s useful, but kind of old!” then you’re catching on.

The American-born Martin will be among the best blue liners available on July 1, and has the ability to significant improve the complexion of a club in need of an upgrade on the back end in the short-term. He’s 34 though, and we might reasonably expect him to begin to incur diminishing returns going forward (and there’s reason to believe he might already be on the down swing).

Read on past the jump for more.

Track Record

There was a time when the New Jersey Devils had hoped that Martin’s offensive game would develop to the point where he could replace Brian Rafalski. Martin never matched the 37 points he recorded in his sophomore campaign, and has averaged 21.5 points per season in his last four complete campaigns. So needless to say, that never really came to pass.

Martin’s solid heads up game and puck moving ability have made him a useful puck possession defender though, and he’s actually managed to produce points at a fringe top-pair rate over the past three seasons. Still, he’s not really a dynamic offensive threat or a first unit power play option, though he’s not out of place moving the puck around the offensive zone on a second power-play unit.

What Martin has consistently done over the years is handle a top-pairing role at 5-on-5, while having a massive impact on his club’s ability to limit shots, chances and shot attempts against. That’s a relatively rare skill and a valuable one. He’s also a solid option on the penalty kill. 

Future Performance

This is where Martin becomes something of an iffy bet. Though he’s proven to be able to handle a heavy minutes burden, Martin is at the advanced age where the performance level of NHL defenders tends to fall off a cliff. He’s also missed an average of 18.5 games per season over the past three years, which should be something of a red flag for teams looking to commit term to the veteran defender.

The most troubling sign for Martin is that he posted a negative team-relative Corsi For percentage last season for the first time since he signed with the Penguins in the summer of 2010. Though Martin still has a net positive impact on the puck possession abilities of his teams, that atrophying underlying effectiveness could auger poorly for how he’ll perform going forward. 

Even so, Martin came out mostly even by shot attempt differential in a bona fide top pairing role last season and his defensive value is still solid. He’ll be a decent bet in a top-four role next season for sure, but as he progresses further into his mid-30s his performance will probably begin to fall off dramatically.

Contract Outlook

Occasionally veteran players will sign an affordable one-year contract to chase a Stanley cup ring with a club poised to seriously contend. Martin probably won’t be one of those players.

Martin will turn 35 in March, so this is his last chance to sign a long-term deal before the 35+ contract rule applies to him. It was reported that the Penguins wouldn’t be re-signing Martin, though they do have the cap space to make him a credible offer. Those reports have since been denied by Penguins management and by Martin’s agent.

Based on where the free agent market has gone for defenseman in recent years, it seems like Martin could be garner as much as $5 million (or slightly more) on the open market – though it’s possible that a lower than expected salary cap could restrain his value somewhat. Martin’s responsible defensive game and slick first pass would make him an excellent fit for a high-octane team in need of blue line help like the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars or Colorado Avalanche

More from the Top-10 UFA Countdown

#10 – Johnny Oduya

#9 – Antti Niemi

#8 – Martin St. Louis

#7 – Christian Ehrhoff

#6 – Matt Beleskey