During the live coverage of free agency two days ago, I waited anxiously to find out what, exactly, the Devils would do. General manager Lou Lamoriello was adamant about improving the defense, and I figured Paul Martin would be part of those plans. As a matter of fact, I believed Martin would (and should) take precedence over Ilya Kovalchuk. But after two hours, the Devils lost one of their better defenseman, and the feeling of his departure was an all-too familiar feeling for Devils fans everywhere.
When it was announced that Martin would sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The defenseman became another solid player to leave for a division foe, and one that will challenge the Devils in the Atlantic Division for the forseeable future. Martin, an important piece of the Devils defense, would now don one of the ugliest jerseys in the game and face his former team six times a season. The defenseman joined the team that broke his forearm last season! But the Penguins offered a nice five-year, $25 million dollar deal, and Martin was a Penguin.
At first, losing Martin upset me. The Devils needed his presence on the blue line, and I thought he could flourish under new coach John MacLean. The team needed a solid puck-moving defenseman, and Martin could provide that play. More importantly, the team needed some type of firepower from the blue line. While Martin wasn’t great offensively, he still gave opposing teams something to think about. With him gone, the Devils lost a solid player and another good homegrown product.
I was further infuriated when I read these comments, provided by Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. Martin decided to sign with the Penguins because of their ability to win immediately and contend for a Stanley Cup championship.
“There was only a handful of teams interested and it came down to wanting to win right away,” Martin said. “I think Pittsburgh is right there, obviously, after winning a couple of years ago. I just think they’re right in the mix. I know a couple of players there already and talked to them to do a little research. And it just worked out.”
I read into this quote two ways – either the Devils didn’t show enough interest, or Martin believes the Devils can’t “win now.” I highly doubt Lamoriello would let Martin walk easily, so I’ll assume he meant the latter. I can understand how the recent changes may have worried Martin. He’d be playing for yet another new head coach, and he’d be adopting yet another new system. While the Devils have young players, the Penguins have Sidney Crosby, a gold medal and Stanley Cup winner. Meanwhile, the Devils haven’t been able to sniff the Stanley Cup in the past few years. It made sense for Martin to leave, and the money offered could have outweighed any Devils offer.
Continue reading for my take on Martin’s departure.
The Devils won’t be able to completely fill the hole Martin leaves, which led to the signings of Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. When you can’t fill a hole, you need to go in a different direction. That’s what Lamoriello did after Martin joined the Penguins. The general manager made the defense grittier and bigger, but the team still lacks a solid, puck-moving defenseman to assist on the powerplay and the breakout. Martin hamstrung the Devils offensive effort along the blue line. Now the team lacks a legitimate blue line scorer, with only Andy Greene as a scoring threat.
So should we boo Martin when he visits The Rock on Columbus Day? It’s a difficult decision. I want to hate Martin for signing with a division rival, but I can’t bring myself to hate him. He went to sign with a championship contender, something every free agent looks to do. I have to assume that Lamoriello offered him less money on a contract, making Pittsburgh more attractive. It’s always tough to see a good player sign with a division foe (like when Scott Gomez signed with the Rangers and officially became a traitor), but I can’t stay mad at Martin. I’ll probably boo him when he steps on the ice, but I’ll never hate Martin for his decision.
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