12 things to consider about the Matt Martin signing

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off their offseason earlier this weekend by signing a Sarnia Sting legend, born in Ontario, and represented by Newport Sports to a multi-year contract. No, it wasn’t Steven Stamkos, but ex-New York Islanders winger Matt Martin. This signing has polarized the community a bit, so let’s take in some of the positives, negatives, and in-betweens.

  • The first thing that many will point out to you is Martin’s shot suppression wizardry. In his past five years, his Relative Attempts-Against Per 60 minutes have been -1.96, -3.74, 3.26, -6.29, and -4.43. That’s four of five seasons where the team has given up fewer shots with him on the ice than without him.
  • One thing that’s worth nothing here: He does sacrifice that in offence. Last year was his best season in that regard, where his CF60Rel was “just” -5.35, bringing his overall relative possession percentage to -0.45%. At no point in the past five years has Martin been a possession driver.
  • I’m curious as to how all of these stats are affected by playing on the “best fourth line in history”, though. While there are some elite two-way forwards in the top of the shot suppression class, there are a staggering amount of depth players there too. Rich Clune’s Relative CA60 in the past five years is better than Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Thornton. Patrick Kaleta, Patrick Bordeleau, and Chris Neil are near the top of the list as well. Analytics used to identify players like Colton Orr and Paul Bissonette as top-end shot suppressors. There’s a case to be made that sometimes, gritty players play against other gritty players and use up a lot of their ice time in shifts were both teams are doing a lot of hitting, yapping, and shoving, and not a lot of trying to score. If your two-way game is defined around sending a message to another message sender, you’re not a Selke candidate.
  • Martin does give the Leafs something I’m more than content with having on the roster: A hockey-capable enforcer. Fighting is leaving the game bit by bit, but it’s not gone. Martin’s eleven fights last season were more than the entire Leafs roster, and according to our friends at HockeyFights.com, he didn’t flat out lose a single one. We undervalue the concept of having someone who can drop the gloves when a boiling point hits, rather than calling somebody up or pulling someone out of the press box to play two minutes a night in the grudge match that follows a few months later.
  • I also feel that Martin could benefit the team not so much in protecting the young players, but in teaching them. Contrary to popular belief, toughness can be taught much easier than skill if you get to the player young enough. The Marlies are a good example of this: Nikita Soshnikov came into the season as an unassuming skilled forward. A few months with Rich Clune turned a kid who barely spoke English into a pest with puck skills when he got to the NHL. I don’t think having Matt Martin is going to protect William Nylander and Mitch Marner very much, but he could be useful in making them be able to fend for themselves.
  • Our very own Draglikepull brought up yesterday that Martin and Tyler Bozak have very similar even-strength points per 60 minutes over the past two years. Many took this as a praise for Martin. Considering we’ve been harping on Bozak for being unproductive despite his minutes over the years, maybe we should pump the breaks on that.
  • Now, with all of this considered, four years seems like an insane amount of time to commit to a player like Martin. Yes, Andrew Ladd is somehow a 7-year man, and this still isn’t in David Clarkson territory, but it’s a lot of commitment to a player that’s not going to be a part of your core. Presently, Martin joins Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews as the only roster players who will enter the season with a contract commitment for 2018/19. Does that not sound a little off?
  • Lou Lamoriello also hinted that he felt that everybody who signed on July 1st signed for above market value, and wouldn’t stipulate that Martin wasn’t one of them. That’s not what you want to hear; while the 2016/17 roster isn’t exactly a beacon of financial wizardry, it’s one that’s trying to shed a poor past. Say what you want about “it’s just one player”, but death by a thousand papercuts has to be considered here. A team in a salary cap league that signs their entire roster to market value finishes fifteenth. 
  • One place where Martin is in Clarkson territory, interestingly, is that he might be the least talented player ever to get the Newport treatment. That’s a front-loaded contract with buyout protection, something that became the nightmare of Leafs fans when they realized that Clarkson should have been inescapable. Just 35% of Martin’s contract is paid in salary, with the rest coming in signing bonuses. If he were to fail to reach expectations, the buyouts would look something like.

  • So, next to no savings. If the doesn’t fit, he has to be traded.  It’s a huge dice roll. Thankfully for the Leafs, he doesn’t have any form of no trade or no movement clause attached to his contract, so the best “buyout” like scenario if things go sour is probably a salary-retained trade.
  • His deal does look palatable enough to be expansion draft fodder, though. I wonder if, knowing that the cap doesn’t matter very much this year, they’ll leave him unprotected and get the benefits of short term without the concern of the other three years. If that happens, this signing instantly becomes a successful parachute maneuver
  • By the way, the hope that this is going to lead to the Leafs signing John Tavares in 2018? Don’t hold your breath. Other than the fact I don’t see Tavares coming here, Martin would’ve been a better recruiting chip for Stamkos, who he played with in junior, is still friends with now, shares an agent with, and was a free agent with at the same time. That didn’t work, so I doubt this is a prepping for a second swing.

I don’t fully know where I stand with Martin. I said before they signed him that I felt he was a bit underrated, but I also proceeded with caution knowing that he was getting paid. That’s what it comes down to, really; from an entertainment perspective, I love watching aggressive forecheckers like Matt Martin. I think his arrival ensures that the Leafs don’t pick up an enforcer, and I think he does a world of good for the younger prospects.

But he also takes up a roster spot for a long time, and he makes a little above market value in a lineup position where most of the “modern dynasty” teams have learned to constantly rotate entry level deals. His underlying numbers aren’t anything special, and the one statistic he has an edge on is one where there’s debate over if it’s a product of quality or situation.

I think if this were a no-cap, luxury tax, or fast-rising cap league, the move is a bit more palatable to me. But it feels like the bit of positive feeling I’d have towards this move is negated by the circumstances of his contract. As I said in my much-disputed post about management uncertainty, this doesn’t feel like a move the team would have made a year ago, and it leaves me pretty curious. Maybe they feel like the team has undervalued toughness a bit, but you also wonder if Martin is worth the premium. 

Overall, I think I like this move for Toronto from a hockey perspective and I’m very uncertain about it from an asset management perspective. Who knows, though; we all thought fellow hit machine Leo Komarov was paid too much, and it turned out that he was worth it and then some once his usage changed. I guess we’ll have to see how it all plays out.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Thanks for allowing a little more uncertainty and hesitancy into this discussion, Jeff. Matt Martin is not bringing the skies down.

    You do still tend to veer onto the shoulder of hyperbole: “four years seems like an insane amount of time to commit…”


    Yes, 2-3 years would have been better. And no doubt that’s what management would have preferred. But don’t forget that the Leafs bargain in a competitive setting. What makes you so sure that Martin wasn’t getting good offers with term from other franchises?

    There’s a concept in economics called “what the market will bear.” Looking at the outlandish terms given to much older players and NTC’s, this one’s not “insane.” Maybe Martin’s contract is what the market would bear to land him.

    Besides, he’s exposed for Las Vegas, where he’ll be just the kind of player fans inn the dessert will drive to see.

    • Kanuunankuula

      If other teams are offering more, let them handcuff themselves. We’re not talking about Stamkos here. Matt Martins are dime in dozen. If he won’t take 2 years. Don’t sign him. Simple as that. Don’t give fourth liners term and too much money.

      We can’t just assume Vegas is a get-out-jail-card and sign players to stupid contracts. Martin is not the end of the world, but a symptom of something going wrong.

      • Gary Empey

        You know who wasn’t a dime a dozen? Semenko and McSorely. They played at different times beside Gretzky and made sure no one hit him or took liberties with him. They gave Gretzky confidence to go out and not be intimidated. But they were good enough skaters that they didn’t slow Gretzky down.

        Martin is an excellent skater and is the closest thing to a Semenko or a McSorely that we can get for Matthews and Marner.

          • Jeremy Ian

            This is the kind of rhetoric that’s creating a fuss over nothing. Martin’s contract is nowhere near as burdensome as those two.

            Bickell: June 2013, signed to a $16m contract, $4m cap hit for next year. 30 years old. Played 25 games last year. 2 points.

            Brown: July 2013 signed to an 8 year extension. $5.9m cap hit. Modified NTC. Age 31. Played 87 games last year. 29 points.

            Can we get some better comparables, instead of leaping to two of the worst contracts in the NHL to conclude that all is lost?

          • Jeremy Ian

            Wow, bad comparisons much?

            Martin is being brought in to protect a couple of 18 year old super stars from getting pasted. 3% of the cap to insure that Marner and Matthews can go out and play without having the sh&t kicked out of them night after night is a pretty cheap price to pay.

            He’s not just a face puncher there purely for staged fights. He’s a fast skater who can keep up with the stars, retrieve pucks from corners, screen goalies and plays responsibly defensively. He’s useful!

            More importantly its far less likely that opposing players will see Marner and Matthews as potential targets with Martin watching their backs!

      • Jeremy Ian

        To be clear: I am not excited about signing Martin, and as I have repeatedly said the term is not optimal.

        It’s the doomsday narrative that I am finding more objectionable than the contract.

        “a symptom of something going wrong.” It’s that sort of jumping that drives me crazy. Really?

        There is so much variance to each one of these (few!) decisions to know how it’s going to play out.

        You are just using a few observations to interpret the data in a particular way. Understand variability in data — and stop trying to get more out of them than they yield.

        Man. I am all for analytics. But use them correctly! Bad use of numbers ascribes the wrong significance to them.

        • Kanuunankuula

          It’s not just the one move. It’s this, Polak, and the draft. I’m not saying this as bad as Brown. But is the same kind of overpaying and overvaluing grit & hitting that got us in the Clarkson mess to begin with. There is absolutely nothing special about Martin. Again, if people read my original message, I said it’s not one contract that kills you, it’s that you make a bunch of over-payments. Adding to that we’re kind of a cap team already, it’s just plain stupid. If we were 10mil under the cap at the start of June, then maybe sign him. But the term and money are most likely going to bite us in the ass at some point.

          Does the 18-wheeler have to go off the cliff for me to be worried, or can I be concerned that we’re veering a bit to the side?

      • wallcrawler

        Players like Martin are not a dime a dozen. He actually plays a 200 foot game. Sure he’s a fourth liner, but I bet Babcock gives him time playing with the kids too.
        Yes he can and is an enforcer, but enforcers are usually limited to a few minutes a game, not the 10 on average that Martin plays.

    • magesticRAGE

      Vegas could very well pick him up. I mean, he is a leader in something. If he’s going to bring something to the table, it should at least be notable. His contract won’t be erroneous, Vegas will need to clear the cap floor.

      Just because his contract is “what the market could bear”, doesn’t mean a commitment needs to be made. He is a leader in hits, but there are others. The art of “hitting” can be taught to others. For the type of player he has shown to be, the contract is on the crazy side, at least the term. Should have been 2 years, unless the nerds unanimously swear by him.

      I’ll be patient, try to be patient, but am still confused in the details.

  • not_SorjeBalming

    Jeff, imagine you’re one of the best young hockey blog writers in the world. But every day you come to work and there is some huge bully hitting your desk, pushing you down, slashing your hands, calling you names and threatening to do you bodily harm. You complain to the boss but all he does is send the offending person into the closet for 2 minutes of punishment. If it’s really serious 5 minutes in the closet. How well do you think you would do as a hockey blog writer in that case?

    Now imagine your boss hires Matt Martin to sit beside you. Martin is not much of a writer but he can help you with research and other errands. More importantly anytime anyone tries to come after you, Martin is there to scare them off. Now how much better of a hockey blog writer will you be?

    Hockey is played by people, in the Leafs’ case their best players are kids. Kids get intimidated, scared and feel insecure. When they do they don’t perform at their best. But with Martin at their side Marner and Matthews will have the confidence to do what they do best. And Martin is good enough at hockey that he won’t be an anchor, those two have more than enough skill for any line in hockey.

  • magesticRAGE

    “Presently, Martin joins Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews as the only roster players who will enter the season with a contract commitment for 2018/19. Does that not sound a little off?”

    Not really…would it sound off if we added another good veteran for four years?

    Martin can be signed until 2018/19 because he is elite for what he does. He can fight a heavy-weight enforcer, but he is so much better at hockey than 95% of those guys.

    Near the end of the season when the Marlie kids came up they scored some pretty, slick goals, (the type can enrage the other team) and there were lots of scrums. The opposition veterans were trying to run and intimidate the younger skilled Leafs.

    Martin as a deterrent should cut down on pushing after the whistle. Unlike many enforcers, Martin skates well enough that you can throw him out for the occasional part of a shift with skilled players. You can send a message quickly, you don’t need to wait to send out the whole 4th line against their 4th line.

  • not_SorjeBalming

    This is nuts…You guys who think they made a bad move with signing Martin because its a bit too long of a contract and maybe 500K too much need to really step back from the ledge.

    We are competing against OTHER teams to sign guys ya know. It’s not a perfect world where everything lines up in your favor all the time. It sounds to me like all the millennials are upset because life is not being fair to them and is not playing out the way THEY want it to.

    News flash…we are going to have some iffy deals signed by Shanagement ..it cannot be helped or mitigated because they are human and can make mistakes. This signing is not one of them.

    I really think the GM mode in NHL 16 is messing with everyone’s perspective when it comes to building a team. We have to try and sign players that OTHER teams covet sometimes and that causes that cost to increase a bit more than we would have liked to have paid. It doesn’t mean that you just sit on the sidelines forever does it?? because if you can keep you “mistakes” to a Martin type contract instead of a Stamkos contract…I think we are going to be just fine.

    This analytics stuff is getting to be too much IMO. We have a guy like Gardiner that everyone loves to death because of his corsi and they forget he DOESN’T friggen score more than 30pts in a season. He is good at corsi and advanced stats for sure…but he is neither an offense producing machine or a shutdown guy…he is just kind of there doing his thing. And we have people who wouldn’t trade him for Matt Duchene…lol.. WOW…Just WOW.

  • Jason_76

    Count me as one for this signing. The term may be a bit high, but the cost yearly against the cap isn’t. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t hear anything about a NMC or NTC. If he busts then flip him. He had other suitors who I’m sure at his cap hit would be dance partners.

    Call me somewhat old school. I became a fan back in the mid 90’s. I like that he fights. I admit it. I also admit that fighting is down across the league and the days of the “goon” are gone. However, fighting is STILL a part of the game and it’s my opinion that it still should be. That being said the enforcer’s role has changed a bit in that he has to be able to skate and not be a detriment defensively while out there. Simply put the enforcer still has to be able to play hockey so he does get more than 3 minutes a night.

    Teams that win the CUP have that mixture of skill and toughness. It’s all about balance. Too much toughness and no skill=being skated out of the rink. Too much skill and no toughness=manhandled out of the rink.

  • Jason_76

    I understand why people aren’t thrilled with the Martin signing, but damn, when some people start debating and complaining about it, you’d think he got a 5×5 contract.

  • Trevor5555

    I love the energy and physicality he brings. We have enough cap space that 2.5M wont be a problem going forward. He even chips in some goals. He can play 3rd / 4th line, score 10-12 goals and play smart aggressive hockey and bring that physicality and keep other players honest.

    Worth every penny in my opinion. Think of the different looks we have for our bottom 6. We have a great mix of physicality and skill with the added dimension of Martins fighting ability. He brings a nice dynamic to an already interesting group.

  • Drapes55

    I think you guys are misinterpreting the Bickell and Brown comparison. I don’t believe he’s comparing the Martin deal to those but making a references to an earlier comment where someone stated the best teams of the current day have avoided giving big and long term contracts to players who didn’t deserve them/didn’t live up to the expectations.

  • JB#1

    I’ve read through ALL the stories and comments on this site and am just mystified as to why anyone is surprised by the Matt Martin signing.

    I remember a couple of occasions late last year when a Leaf player (usually Kadri) found himself surrounded in a scrum by two or three players from the other team and he was left to fend for himself.

    If I remember correctly, after one of those games Babcock said that wasn’t OK and wouldn’t happen again as they were going to address that in the off-season – which they have done by signing Matt Martin.

    Now, we can continue to debate the length or the AAV until the cows come home, but the term and amount were what it took to get Martin signed with the Leafs in the free and open market called Free Agency.

    I’m OK with both the length and AAV for now.

    I’m not against open and free debate, but let’s see how this particular signing plays out starting next season before we pass judgment on this player or Leafs management!

    • Gary Empey

      JB you bring up a very good point. I distinctly recall one game in Calgary where the Hobbit and one of the Calgary defencemen both slashed Kadri at almost the same time. Then the defencemen jumped on Kadri’s back while the Hobbit stood over him. Kadri was called for embellishment. To the enjoyment of the fans the Hobbit kept making the sign for turtling. If we had Martin at that time chances are he would not have been on the ice at the same time. Lots of time in the game left though. Sooner of later the Hobbit was going to run into him.

      I can see the Flame’s Fans screaming now.

      ” OH MY GOD!!! Someone punched the lights out of our Hobbit. Just for slashing Kadri and making the sign of the turtle”

      Maybe their Hobbit plays the whole thing differently from the start.

      Maybe not. I normally abhor violence, but I am all for seeing the Hobbit get his clock cleaned.

      It is time for the Hobbit to get a little “Tough Love”

  • Gary Empey

    The asking price was $10 million dollars. It was up to Lou to decide if he wanted the player and over what time he wanted to pay it out.

    If the Leafs change their minds tomorrow all they have to do is place him on waivers and he and his contract are gone in less than 30 minutes.

    If they wished they could even take their time and trade him.

  • Harte of a Lion

    I see a Laich/Soshnikov/Martin line that will score 30 goals and 65 points, comparable to the line he played with on the Islanders. Soshnikov came alive last year playing on the fourth line with Gauthier and Clune.

    With the Marlies in 15/16, Soshnikov potted 18 goals in 54 games,15 at even strength, 3 pp and 2 short handed. He should hit 15-20 goals with some pp time and as long as Laich can keep up, Toronto will have the best 4th line in hockey.

    As shown with how he utilized Komarov last year, Babcock prefers a playmaker, a scorer and a grinder/heavier type player on each line, to recover lost pucks in the offensive zone. We all want to see the kids ASAP but those NHL jobs still need to be earned and after next years trade deadline and the end of the season, Cowen (should already been bought out) Greening, Laich, Michalek, Robidas, Hunwick and Polak will be gone opening up six roster spots and seven SPC’s for some of the other kids as well as 20 + million in cap space.

    Lastly, there are going to be some trades before the season begins. Anyone who risks being lost to waivers will likely be traded if Lou can find a dance partner. This is where Cowen and his grievance creates a slight cap issue as I hoped we might have an opportunity for a good player from a team with cap issues for a couple of our B prospects (Teräväinen to Carolina with Bickell)

  • Gary Empey

    Kanuunankuula’s take was never clearly answered. The trashes he received, more than once, deserve a decent straight forward reply. If I understood his point correctly, it went like this.

    $2.5 million a year is far too much to pay for a 4th line player when there are lots of them available for $1 million.

    There was lots of debate, points, counter-points regarding Matt Martin’s value and term, but no one yet has really answered his statement.

    I don’t remember seeing Martin play so I can’t do it in good faith.

    So is $2.5 million too much to pay for a 4th liner?

    If Martin is the exception to the rule, explain why he is worth two and a half times the going rate?

    Our leading goal scorer last year was acquired and paid only $1.5 million. So his point is valid.

    • Kanuunankuula

      Exactly. Someone finally got it.

      -Reilly Smith, 5 mil AAV, 5 years. Is Martin ½ the player he is? Hell no.

      -Parenteau, 1,25 mil AAV, 1 year. This the sort of contract Martin should be getting, and PA > Martin.

      -Chris Terry, 0,6 mil AAV, 1 year. 4th line money and term.

      -Riley Nash, 0,9 mil AAV, 2 years. Better than a 4th liner, good contract. Better than Martin.

      Our management is hailed as the smart ones, yet we made a idiotic signing for no reason.

      Again, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s still stupid. And stupid things tend to add up at some point.

      If it was 2 years, then fine, I’d tolerate it.

  • ccliff

    I really enjoy the analysis of the player, and it is our duty as Leafs fans to overthink every move. It is in our nature, as it is difficult for someone to trust another when they are let down time and time again.

    That being said, I think before we claim “the sky is falling,” perhaps there is method to the madness about ensuring that there is a tough relentless presence out there. Forget about protecting the kids, this is hockey… I think the Martin signing is an accurate portrayal of opening up the game and wearing down competition.

    It looks like at least 1/3 of our team will be untested youth, whom haven’t played an 81 game season against men before, that can be difficult… Martin is a type of player that wears the opposition down, perhaps he will be utilized to even out the competition when this really young core begins to waver.

    It is too much to ask for him to be a goal scorer, but as we have all witnessed and complain about, the leafs are terrible at holding a lead either right after we get momentum from a goal, or late in the 3rd period… Martin seems to be the type of player that eliminates that threat.

    Im going to withhold my judgement for the year and be cautiously optimistic