Matt Martin’s contract with the Leafs seems to be one of the most divisive additions the team has made in the post-Nonis era. Many fans are excited about a player Mike Babcock described as “a real good skater, real good forechecker.” Babcock added that he sees Martin as a player who will “keep the flies off our team and give us a presence out there.” The Leafs Nation’s own Jess Pincente reflected the other side when she described the signing as “questionable” and “somewhat hard to justify.”
Whatever the case, the Leafs have Martin on a 4-year contract now, so it’s worth trying to figure out what exactly they can expect to get for $2.5 million per season. Some people, like Babcock, see Martin as bringing qualities in terms of his personality and style of play that will help the Leafs’ younger players adjust to and excel in the National Hockey League. I’ll leave that kind of analysis to others. What I’m going to take a look at here is how Matt Martin stacks up statistically. In particular, I’ll look at him from three angles: offensive production, puck possession, and neutral zone play.
Matt Martin was not signed to score goals, but it’s still worth seeing how much offence he can be expected to contribute. These statistics are from 5v5 play and are listed as rates per 60 minutes of ice time, which helps us to compare players with differing levels of ice time.
Martin’s goal-scoring is better than you’d expect from someone who plays 4th line minutes. Last year, 0.6 goals per 60 minutes would have been right around the 2nd/3rd line cut-off, which is pretty respectable for a guy who mostly plays defensive minutes with linemates who don’t score very much.
His three-year average primary points per 60 minutes is also pretty respectable, coming in right around what you’d expect for a 3rd liner. If Martin’s expected role is to play defensive minutes on the 4th line, his offensive output seems to be pretty solid for those kind of minutes.
It’s worth noting that Martin’s on-ice S% last season saw a huge jump over the previous two seasons. In those two years, his on-ice S% hovered around 6.5%, while last year it was way up at 9.25%. Given that Martin’s played most of his minutes in all three seasons with Casey Cizikas, and nearly all of the last two with Cal Clutterbuck, it seems quite likely that the big spike last season was just good luck. Because of that, we should expect that last year’s boost in scoring for him was temporary and he’s more likely to fall back a bit this year. That being said, he’ll have new linemates and a new coach this year, and those factors are going to have a lot to do with what kind of numbers Martin can put up this season.
The next thing we’ll look at is what the Corsi numbers have looked like over the past few years with Matt Martin on the ice. I’ve broken it down by offensive zone (CF/60) and defensive zone (CA/60) performance. “On” means the numbers when Martin was on the ice, while “Off” represents the shot attempt rates while he was on the bench. Negative numbers are good for CA/60 Rel (ie. fewer shots were allowed with Martin on the ice than on the bench).
|Year||CF/60 On||CF/60 Off||CF/60 Rel||CA/60 On||CA/60 Off||CA/60 Rel|
Two things are pretty clear here. The first is that the New York Islanders have typically done a good job of limiting shots attempts against their own net while Martin is on the ice. The second is that they’ve typically done a very poor job of generating shot attempts for themselves. Depth players shouldn’t be expected to generate the same shot volume that a team’s top players do, but even taking that into consideration, Martin’s offensive abilities do not look particularly good here. The Islanders have been badly outshot with him on the ice the past few seasons; whatever good he does defensively seems to be wiped out by the lack of offensive opportunities that are generated when Martin is on the ice.
We’ll split up neutral zone performance into two categories here: offensive zone entries and defensive zone exits. This data all comes from the 2013-14 season, which is the only season for which I have neutral zone data. It comes from Corey Sznajder‘s All Three Zones project. Let’s start by taking a look at how Matt Martin performed compared to his Islanders teammates in terms of zone entries:
|Player||Failed Entry%||Control Entry%|
It’s evident that, at least in 2013-14, Martin really struggled to get the puck into the offensive zone while maintaining possession of the puck. 31% is an exceptionally low controlled entry rate. In the same season, Jay McClement’s CE% was 39%, David Clarkson’s was 40%, Dave Bolland’s was 41%. That roughly lines up with what we see for the Islanders; Martin’s two most frequent linemates maintained control on over 40% of their entries. This suggests that Martin’s low number really is reflective of his own play, and not just that the Islanders 4th line was playing in a particular way.
Next up are zone exits:
Once again Martin’s numbers do not inspire much confidence. His rate of defensive zone exits where the Islanders maintained possession of the puck is by far the lowest on the team. Like zone entries, his numbers are much lower than his linemates’. Martin’s numbers here are comparable to Colton Orr and David Clarkson.
The sum total of the neutral zone numbers suggest that there might be good reason to be concerned about Martin’s play. It looks like when the puck is on his stick, it’s unlikely that his team will keep possession of the puck for very long. That’s likely a big reason why the Islanders have generated so few shot attempts while he’s on the ice: he can’t get the puck up ice or into the offensive zone while maintaining possession of the puck.
It’s possible that the difference in coaching styles between Mike Babcock and Jack Capuano will help mitigate some of these problems. The Leafs finished higher than the Islanders in score-adjusted Corsi last season (50.5% to 49.5%), which I think speaks to a coaching gap given that the Leafs were working with a significantly less talented roster. But even if Martin’s numbers improve, we should be prepared for him to struggle with the puck. His performance in recent seasons suggests a player who has difficulty carrying play, even relative to the 4th line linemates he’s spent most of his ice time with.