Matt Martin plays an important role for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Cast in the role of father figure to the plethora of young players on the team, Martin’s role is valued immensely by the Leafs organization. There is no denying that.
To examine Martin’s true value to the team, one must extend their view beyond his contributions on the ice. An NHL team’s locker room dynamic is undeniably important, and Martin happens to serve a pivotal role within it. However, as a depth winger making $2.5 million per year, that value must translate into tangible on-ice impact as well.
That is where the true debate surrounding Matt Martin begins.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Matt Martin
From season’s beginning to season’s end, approximately twelve different players occupied a spot on the Leafs fourth line for a minimum of one game. In the midst of all that changeover, Matt Martin was the only one to remain there for all 82 games. Such stability has proven quite valuable to a coach like Mike Babcock. Notoriously, Babcock was extremely hesitant to shuffle any of his line combinations.
In 2016-17, Martin produced five goals, along with four assists, for a total of nine points. That registered as a career low for him, despite last season being the first time in his career where he suited up for all 82 games. Such a decline is troubling, especially for a player in the first year of a four year contract.
The aforementioned changeover of his line could have played a role in his lack of statistical output. Each of the three other forward line for the Leafs benefitted from unprecedented stability. Babcock ensured those combinations stuck together for nearly an entire season, in order for them to develop chemistry among themselves. Matt Martin was not granted such a luxury.
Martin’s full list of linemates in 2016-17 were, in no particular order: William Nylander, Seth Griffith, Nikita Soshnikov, Ben Smith, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown, Peter Holland, Eric Fehr, Josh Leivo, Frederik Gauthier, Byron Froese, and Brian Boyle.
That is far from an enviable talent pool. Players such as Nylander and Brown were only there for one or two games, as they were being sent a message by Babcock. Aside from them, this was a group consisting of almost exclusively AHL-level talent. The only notable exceptions were Brian Boyle and the emergence of Kasperi Kapanen. How could a player possibly be expected to develop chemistry with his linemates when they changed frequently?
It is true that, based on his contract, Martin should be expected to perform no matter the quality of his line. Yet, such turnover is astounding and would rattle even the most talented of players.
Throughout the 2016-17 season, Matt Martin went from being on one of the worst fourth lines in the NHL, to arguably the best. Such a change was kick started by the Leafs acquisition of Brian Boyle. Boyle and Ben Smith were the two most common centres that Martin played with. The impact each player had on Martin’s play is astounding.
With Ben Smith as his centre, Martin was abysmal. Registering as a distinctly negative possession player, with a 44.58% CF rating at even strength, Smith was an anchor of Martin’s production.
To greater illustrate this discrepancy, Smith registered a shockingly bad 36.76% CF at even strength without Martin alongside him. The line was constantly hemmed in their own zone on a nightly basis, proving to be the Leafs greatest position weakness, offensively speaking.
However, the acquisition of Brian Boyle seemingly reanimated Martin’s play. Alongside Boyle, he transformed into a positive possession player, with the 51.17% CF rating at even strength to boot.
Suddenly, the Leafs fourth line could drive play, extending the team’s roster depth and proving to be vital contributors in their first round playoff series. Martin nearly looked like a different player once Boyle arrived. Clearly buoyed by playing alongside a capable centre, he was now free to play his own style. Instead of neglecting to finish a check in order to cover for Smith’s defensive lapses, he could now throw his body around without abandon.
If Martin is able to maintain this new-found form alongside Dominic Moore now, he might be worth his contract after all.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 220 lbs
NHL Entry Draft: Fifth round, 148th overall in 2008 by the New York Islanders
Contract (via CapFriendly)
In every sense of the word, Matt Martin is overpaid. Giving a four-year contract, worth $2.5 million per season to a 28-year-old depth winger is not a wise move. Comparatively, Zach Hyman just signed a nearly identical contract, and he provides all the value Martin does, and then some.
A teams fourth line left winger should not occupy 3.2% of the salary cap. Depth wingers are increasingly replaceable in today’s NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks have built a dynasty upon the mantra of paying their core players, and continuously recycling their depth options.
Burying Martin in the AHL would be tricky. The bonus structure of his contract dictates that he would be set to earn his full NHL salary if he were to be demoted. The Leafs have already developed the reputation as being unafraid to bury expensive contracts in the AHL. However, if they were to make it a habit, it could seriously dissuade any UFA talent from signing with them, lest they become the team’s next victim.
Matt Martin’s presence on the Leafs creates a serious roster crunch. It is simply unacceptable that Martin is keeping players like Kapanen and Soshnikov out of the lineup. He simply does not provide enough tangible value on the ice to warrant that.
It is likely that, as the season wears on, Martin finds himself in the press box more often than not. The Leafs are labeled as serious Stanley Cup contenders this year. To achieve that, they will need each of their forward lines firing on all cylinders. Having Martin in the lineup over the dynamic Kapanen limits the production of the entire roster.
At some point, the highest paid coach in the NHL will have to realize this. What it means for Martin’s future with the Leafs organization remains to be seen.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images