Monday, April 25, 2011

Game 6 Preview: Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?

By Artistry

Every player has a game-day routine.  Usually a morning skate, followed by a big meal, maybe a nap.  Here at GTOG, we warm up by taking the essence of the day's Ron Cook column and producing Ron Cook Poetry.

In their loud rink.
In front of their rabid fans.
So much for home-ice advantage.
I know that.
And no, he wasn't smiling.

It's worth repeating here:
The Penguins will show up, and they won't be afraid.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
The Penguins had better win tonight.

See? Now we're ready to play.

- Some Tampa columnist thinks the Lightning might be in Marc-Andre Fleury's head. And we thought Ron Cook asked a lot of rhetorical questions.

- Was Dan Bylsma wrong when he famously said Caps goalie Mikey Neuvirth was "not good?" That's not a rhetorical question. I'd really like an answer.

- Who is Paul Martin?  Is he the top tier defenseman we thought we were getting last summer, or is he merely a rich man's Mark Eaton?  He played poorly on Saturday, but who didn't?  All rhetorical questions, prompted by a deluge of emails from friends of GTOG who have been insisting all series long that PM is wildly overpaid and should be - and I think they're serious about this
- a healthy scratch in Game 6.  Whoa.  I think there are two questions that really need to be answered here:  1) Is Paul Martin well suited for his role, i.e. is he a legitimate top 4 defenseman on a contending team?; and 2) Is Paul Martin overpaid at $5 million per year?

Lost in Existential Thought
First, before he came to Pittsburgh, Martin was unquestionably the best defenseman on the New Jersey Devils.  The conversation should probably end there, but let's go on.  Martin plays at least 20 minutes a night, and sometimes as many as 35-40 minutes, for a team that finished the regular season with 49 wins.  That's second in the league to Vancouver.  Only five teams in the league gave up fewer goals per game.  I don't need to tell you that the Penguins were hurting up front for many of those games, or that they were hurting in general for most of them.  Paul Martin was a constant.  He played 77 games, and he played at even strength, on the power play, and short-handed.  He didn't light up the scoreboard, and no one expected that.  Ray Shero was looking for a mobile minutes-eater who could help the Penguins get to their game.  Someone who could turn swiftly and collect the puck in the defensive zone, make a quick outlet pass when possible, and have the poise to stickhandle out of danger and up ice when necessary.  That's exactly what he got.  No question Martin needs to step up his game tonight, but naysayers may want to take a minute to appreciate what exactly his game is.

Second, Martin has three obvious comparables in terms of salary vis a vis performance:  Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis, Anton Volchenkov.  Those were the other top defenseman on the free agent market in the summer of 2010, and they signed for $5.5 million, $4.5 million, and $4.25 million per year, respectively.  Let's not even address Gonchar, because it's too easy.  If you'd rather have a clearly over-the-hill minus-machine like Sarge on your payroll for the next couple of years, I don't know why we're even including you in this conversation.  Look at the other guys:

                            GP     G     A    Pts    +/-   PIMs

Paul Martin         77      3     21    24     9      16
Dan Hamhuis      64      6     17    23     29    34
A. Volchenkov    57      0     8      8       3      36

How's that Volchenkov signing looking?  Great defender when he's healthy, but he hasn't played 70 games in 5 years.  I don't see him getting more durable going into his thirties.  He'll be sitting out games in New Jersey for at least five more years.  Hamhuis?  Solid player, but we knew that.  The plus-minus?  If Paul Martin played for the Canucks this year, he might have been a +80.  Meaningless stat.  Is Paul Martin overpaid?  Not compared to these guys.  I'm sure you could find players you'd rather have who make less, but I'm guessing you'll come up with homegrown stars who got locked up early in their careers (Kris Letang, Shea Weber).  You can't just go out and get those players.  Of course, you could try comparing Paul Martin to Tom Gilbert ($5.5 million), Roman Hamrlik ($5.5 million), Sheldon Souray ($5.4 million), or Michael Roszival ($5.0).  But maybe it's better if you just stop complaining now and find another target. 

- Flyers captain Mike Richards buried Buffalo's Tim Connolly into the boards during Sunday's Game 6.  Connolly, who played more minutes than any other Sabres' forward this series, is out for Game 7.  No suspension for Captain Leadership.



If Matt Cooke pulled that stunt, the league would have already scheduled a televised beheading for this afternoon. Then again, Mike Richards doesn't have a history of questionable hits. Wait. What's that? He does? Oops.

- Rest assured, Finesse and I will not be watching Game 6 together, and if he tries to contact me today, I'm not available. LGP.

UPDATE:  Thoughts on Sunday's two incredible Game 6 games from GTOG contributor Eloquence, after the jump...

Sabres/Flyers

The Sabres are the Penguins.

Like the Pens, the Sabres lack finishers outside of Tomas Vanek, but don't look like fun to play against. Quick transition, blocking shots, tough along the boards, etc. The Flyers were on their heels most of the game and then rely on the PP to tie game.

After years of playoff failure, I don't blame Lindy Ruff for calling Bylsma and asking him for a game plan. Jerry Sloan should have called him, too. But apparently Bylsma forgot the part about not taking stupid third period penalties with 10 minutes to go in one-goal games. Flyers tie game, win in OT, and will probably win game 7 in their own building. Reminded me of 10, 20, or 60 Penguin games this season.

The Flyers have a bad habit of coming out strong and coasting until things get close. Look how they finished the regular season. They'll turn it on tomorrow night. However, don't be fooled by this series going to 7. Flyers are tough, Pronger is healing, and Briere is on fire.

Tyler Ennis is legit. 21 years old. Good for him for keeping pace with Aaron Asham in the playoffs (no sarcasm).

Hawks/Canucks

Hossa is a beast.

As we've declared here at GTOG, there's no reason to maintain hostility towards Hossa. We won the cup the next year and he did what we all want players to do anyway: turn down more money for a championship. Jokes on him. Move on if you haven't already.

With that said, his assist on the OT winner last night was unreal. Watch it. Guy on his back, a second defender jabbing at the puck, kicks puck from skate to stick, and gets away pass. Not sure if that was all necessary just to get a pass to the point, but fun to watch. Though less exciting for Pens fans since Paul Martin does that four times/game in the defensive zone.

3 comments:

  1. Great defense of Martin there.

    His critics do have a point. It's easy to see him as the odd man out because he does not seem a critical component of anything. Letang is our best offensive threat from the blue line, Michalek our best shot blocker, and Orpik our ambassador of doom in the corners. Martin hasn't really stood out in any facet of the game this season. We expected him to be a PP quarterback, especially after Goligoski got traded, but that didn't pan out. So, in the end, our number 4 defenseman is getting paid $5M a year. That's as much as Kovalev who is a major contribut... oh, never mind.

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  2. I am a newcomer, but a big fan of the site. I am one of the "friends" who thinks Paul Martin was a waste of money and more specifically, not what we expected. My good friend above has asked me multiple times to bring this discussion to the site, so I thought I would give it a try. Please excuse the format, since this is my first time.

    I simply don’t think we should be paying our number 4 defensemen and 4th choice on the power play point, $5 million a year. I would rather have a high scoring winger or stay at home defensemen or a offensive defensemen that can score more than 24 points (Rob Scuderi had 9 less points at $3 million a year). I was doing research on some of the comments and editorials that I could find when we signed Martin. Because my good friend cannot be objective about this, I thought you could be the judge on whether we ended up with what we or others thought we would get in Martin. Feel free to comment:

    ESPN: Martin will get the chance to quarterback the Penguins' power play as he did with the New Jersey Devils, but now he'll share that special teams assignment with Alex Goligoski. However, Martin will benefit from skating on a power-play assembly that includes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which wasn't the case in New Jersey. Those factors balance out to what you would expect from a healthy Martin every season: 30 to 35 points.

    Hockey News: Martin is a decent offensive defenseman who will get a chance to shine with the Penguins as they have a dynamite power play with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby up front. Look for Martin to have a career year in 2010-11 [BTW, this year was Martin's worst offensive year of his career).

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  3. You're way off.

    1) Martin is not the Pens' "4th defenseman." He was second only to Letang in minutes and did so without nearly as much PP time. He played nearly 3 minutes/game more than Orpik and with good reason - he's better than Orpik (all due respect to Brooks).

    2) With only very rare exceptions, defensemen don't get points solely on the basis of their own ability - the big point scorers on D are usually the guys who play with the best forwards. With the amount of games Sid and Geno missed, everyone's numbers were going to be down, especially defensemen who get points by passing to Sid and getting out of the way or passing to someone who passes to Sid and then getting out of the way. In fact, you'll notice that both of the previews you cited mention BOTH Crosby and Malkin. Look what happened to Letang's production when those guys went down...funny how he stopped being a "Norris Trophy Candidate" so suddenly.

    3) As an ultra-conservative estimate, it's fair to say that a healthy Sid and Geno (or even just one) would have translated into 6 more points for Martin. All of a sudden, that's your 30 points, pretty much consistent with his career averages. This isn't to say that Martin couldn't have been better offensively, just that given the circumstances, he wasn't as bad as you say. (Although he only scored goals in 2 games this year which is not good enough).

    4) The Pens as a team took almost unlimited stupid penalties. Martin had only 16 total PIM. He was second on the team in blocked shots, had less giveaways than Letang and Michalek, and was second to Letang in takeaways.

    5) Pens led the league in penalty killing, he was a big part of it.

    6) Yes, the PP was terrible, but the PP was terrible with everyone out there - Letang, Michalek, Sid, Geno, Staal ... everyone. You can't pin the PP failures on Martin although, like everyone else, he certainly could have been more productive on the PP.

    7) Sergei Gonchar's first year with the Pens was one of the worst seasons that anyone has ever had. Then, he played 4 years at an incredibly high level. Translation: way too soon to give up on Martin, even if he was as bad as you think he was.

    8) Compared to other defensemen, Martin's salary is reasonable for his production. James Wisnewski makes $5.5 million. So does Sergei Gonchar.

    9) Through December, he had 3 goals, 12 assists, and was a +13. That he fell from that pace is not surprising given he had to play 24 minutes a night with Max Talbot as the team's #2 center. Everyone's production fell off - just think of Letang.

    10) Who is your replacement? If you commit all $5 million of his salary to offense, then you get what a decent forward and have Niskanen, Lovejoy, and Engelland around 20 mins/night. Good luck with that. If you get a $3million D-man and a $2mil forward, well in this market...what $2 mil winger would that be? Max Talbot? And who would the $3 mil D-man be? Mark Methot? Good luck with that, too.

    11) The Pens had 100 points with a team decimated with injuries. That's not an excuse for anyone's poor performance, but it puts into context what the team was working with this year.

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