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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski / USA TODAY Sports

2016-17 Leafs Season in Review: Matt Martin

Polarizing doesn’t even begin to describe Matt Martin.

The veteran presence earned his way into the Leafs lineup for all 82 games, and then was also present for 6 playoff contests. Signed to a four year, $10 million deal in last year’s free agency market, Martin was brought into to be a leader within the locker room and on the ice, helping to transition a team just taking its baby steps throughout the NHL.

It’s not a secret, though, that he’s not exactly a fan favourite among everyone, particularly due to his low offensive output.

Yeah, Matt Martin didn’t have the best offensive season. In the past ten years, only two Leafs forwards have played at least 60 games and put up fewer points per game.


Strengths

We’re going to start with this video of Matt Martin hugging  Carlton the Bear, the Leafs’ lovable mascot.

While it may seem like I’m joking, I’m really not. Martin, by all accounts, seems to be having the time of his life every night he’s with the Leafs, appears to be a genuinely good role model and friend to the young Leafs, and for a guy who was seemingly signed for his intangibles, appears to have a world full of them.

Statistically, here’s a few notes about him:

  • Martin was second in the league in hits this season, and finished first amongst forwards.
  • Martin fought 13 players this season, and won 9 of them, according to hockeyfights.com. As fighters go, he’s a good one. In all but two or three occasions, he pulled out legitimate impact players from the other team’s lineup and caused them to sit. 81 of his penalty minutes came from direct relations to his fights: 65 minutes in major penalties, three minors and a 10-minute misconduct.
  • If there’s one thing Martin’s known for that doesn’t involve his physicality, it’s his shot suppression. Of forwards to play at least 500 minutes this year, Martin was the 44th best (out of 351) at reducing shot attempts towards his net, relative to his teammates.
  • Martin came out even with a 50.0 GF% at even strength. Amongst regular Leafs forwards, no one had a better GA60, which means the Leafs were least likely to give up a goal against with Martin on the ice.
  • His biggest game of the year came in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs, where he picked up two assists, including this solid forecheck to set up Brian Boyle (who then fed the puck to Kasperi Kapanen for the winner).

Weaknesses

  • Well, as noted above, he doesn’t score a lot of points. With just 5 goals and 4 assists in 82 games, he finished with one point less than Josh Leivo, who played 13 games. 
  • Martin took 42 minutes of penalties not related to fighting in just 730 total minutes of ice time. Only three other Leafs had more than 42 minutes of penalties all year. His 123 minutes ranked 5th in the league.
  • Though Martin was brought in for his veteran experience, he’s only the 5th oldest forward signed by the Leafs for next season. Which is a little odd.
  • Not surprisingly, via our pal Dom Luszczyszyn, Martin easily had the lowest game score of regular Leafs forwards.
  • Very small sample size and not really a long term concern, but Martin took 11 faceoffs this year. Martin also lost 11 faceoffs this year.
  • Martin came out even with a 50.0 GF% at even strength. Amongst regular Leafs forwards, no one had a worse GF60, which means the Leafs were least likely to score a goal with Martin on the ice.
  • He might have benefitted from a considerable amount of luck, seeing as the Leafs’ save percentage with him on the ice was .939 at 5v5.  On average for the Leafs, it was .922, and the league’s highest team, Washington, still put up just a .937.

Looking ahead

Honestly, I’m not sure. Martin will likely be back with the Leafs one way or another. Though none of us really see the need to protect him from the expansion draft, there’s a very real possibility he ends up being one of the 10 Leafs skaters they find the need to stick to.

From one perspective, it makes sense. He’s signed for three more years, is a lock to play every night and has missed more than four games just once in his NHL career in his time as a regular.

On the other hand, it seems like a gross error on Toronto’s part to consider him one of their seven most useful forwards looking ahead and protecting Martin could cost them a more significant asset. He likely doesn’t have much trade value and I can’t imagine Las Vegas finding him more useful that one of Kerby Rychel, Brendan Leipsic or Joshua Leivo, who at least two of will likely be exposed if Martin gets put on the Leafs’ list. While he brings along a decent defensive aspect and is as physical as they come, that only masks the fact he’s not very skilled offensively and is not exactly an impact forward.

And while it’s not an “all-time terrible” type of contract, there really doesn’t seem to be much need for a $2.5 million to be spent for the next three years on a fourth line player.

Head coach Mike Babcock has repeatedly talked up how much he likes Martin, evidenced by the fact he didn’t miss a single game all year. While he’ll never win any scoring titles, if there’s still a spot on the roster for a “goon”, “pest”, “enforcer”, or whatever else you want to call it, Martin occupies that role and does a decent enough job of it. He does what he’s asked, is well liked by his teammates, and whether or not you want to attribute it to him, the Leafs didn’t see any real cheap shots taken at their stars this year.

Three more years of Matt Martin and all that comes with it, good and bad. Are you ready for it?

  • Peachy

    I think you’re missing a key when contemplating the consequences of protecting / not protecting Martin… Namely, the Leafs will lose an interesting young forward no matter what.

    Assume LV values forwards Leivo, Rychel, Leipsic in that order. If you protect Martin, Leivo is taken. If you expose Martin and protect Leivo, Rychel is taken. In other words, the only value you’ve gained as a result of protecting Leivo is the delta between Leivo’s value and Rychel’s value, which I think we can agree, is a very small delta.

    In other words, it really doesn’t matter much whether or not the Leafs protect Martin, except in the improbable scenario that LV somehow values Martin higher than all three of Leivo, Rychel or Leipsic and thus takes Martin instead, saving the Leafs the value delta between Martin and Leivo (which is significant). Again though, I can’t imagine LV being dumb enough to do that.

    So instead, you protect Martin because you feel that the value of his ego being un-bruised (and whatever knock on effects to team cohesion) is larger than the value delta between Leivo and Rychel.

    I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it is defensible.

  • Stan Smith

    I find it amazing that so many “knowledgable” people think that for some reason Martin would not be an attractive pickup to Las Vegas. Everyone seems to think Shanahan and crew are geniuses, and are making this team a contender. If those geniuses think Martin is a valuable player, why wouldn’t Vegas?

    As for what he brings to team, too many people put too much emphasis on offence. Offence is only half the game. The fact that he creates little offence, and still has a GF% of 50% says a lot about his defensive abilities. Once the Leafs acquired Boyle, Martin, along with Boyle and Kapanen were really good together, cycling in the offensive zone, even without creating many scoring chances.

    Besides, as Peachy was referring to, leaving Martin exposed only really works to protect a prospect if there is a chance Vegas would take him in the draft.

    • Kanuunankuula

      That’s a big strawman. Vegas is not going to be a team filled with rookies that “need” protection. I think Shanahan & co are very smart people, but not perfect people. So let’s assume they think Martin is essential to contending. He won’t be to Vegas, even by that logic (which I don’t agree with). Let’s say you have a few kids, you’d buy a Volvo station wagon. The space and safety would be valuable to you. But it’s not valuable to everyone, if someone is single, they’re not going to need the extra space, and maybe don’t value all that safety, but rather get something sportier.

      As to GF%, what the difference how you get it? If you’re above 50%, you’re winning games? You get by either a big GF or a small GA. If you’re a sum 50%, means all that good your good GA does is nullified by your lack of offence (low GF).