Martin’s signing not just about grit, but fit as well

Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SPORTS

A weird off-season for the analytically minded Toronto Maple Leafs culminated in the signings of Matt Martin and Roman Polak. To the smart-set, Toronto overpaid for size, which is the cardinal sin in analytics. Everyone else thinks these deals are great, like everything their team does, but I’m not sure that either side is completely correct. While I don’t love either contract, I think they bought fit, not size.

Leaving Polak for another post, conventional wisdom on Martin says “solid player, bad deal”. He’s strong defensively, second in the NHL since 2014 in relative CA/60 Relative, and first in tied situations. Some say Martin plays weak competition, but against Sidney Crosby, his most common opponent since 2014, he put up a 54.2% CF%. Sid in that time put up 50.41 CF/60 against Martin, and 63.40 otherwise. It’s a small sample, but reading the list, there’s no pattern around the results, and thirty minutes against Sid isn’t nothing. Suppressing nine shot attempts per 60 minutes matters, even coming against weaker competition. He also put up stronger Corsi Against numbers than similarly used teammates.

The fit over PA Parenteau is evident. If James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov play with Nazem Kadri again, there’s no left wing after van Riemsdyk, who’s been an NHL regular before. The right side is similar, but that’s probably where William Nylander and Match Marner play. Parenteau scores, but would play less. Competition on the left side exists, with Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo, Kerby Rychel, and Brendan Leipsic, but only Leivo must be waived. Playing more creates more value.

Back to balance. It’s hard proving that Martin’s defence balances offensive teammates. On three man units, you need to know who’s driving offense or defence, who the third forward is, and who they all otherwise play with. It’s more complicated for the Islanders, since John Tavares is much better than his teammates, and has played more with ten linemates than his 85 minutes with Martin. For the bit it’s worth, the only forward to put up a better CF% with Tavares than Martin in over fifteen minutes is Mikhail Grabovski, a strong defensive player making twice Martin’s salary.

Where I’ve referred to “defensive conscience,” you may say “disruptor.” Martin’s speed and size make his hits more likely to break up a play, leaving his linemates, who under Babcock would be positioned in relation to the puck rather than the ice or their teammates, in a position to pick up loose pucks. Or at worst, ending a rush, killing time, and keeping opponents from the play.

When a teammate has the puck, players tend to spread apart, to draw defenders, and because passes go faster than players. Babcock takes advantage of this when his disruptor loosens pucks, leaving his players closer and better positioned around the puck to cut off angles to the opposition. A harder hitter, who can remove a player from the play, may be more likely to prevent the carrier from regaining the puck. Given that, Martin should excel at stopping opposition puck carriers and providing teammates an opportunity to chase a loose puck. This is the role that Komarov and Rich Clune filled on their lines last year. Given the specialization involved, traditional positioning will matter less than the ability to cover more ice. Martin’s speed will help.

The contract isn’t ideal because they didn’t exploit a market inefficiency, which is the goal here. I think there are cheaper disruptors available, and Martin will rely on players with complimentary skill sets to thrive. The Leafs have many puck carriers, though, and Martin provides a better chance at a loose puck. It shouldn’t shock anyone if teammates were better at carrying in those pucks than fellow disruptor linemates Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck are better at taking advantage. The Islanders would have been better off using this to create loose pucks for their carriers, instead of playing to kill time in the neutral zone against weak opposition.

  • not_SorjeBalming

    I agree! I didn’t know about Martin’s effectiveness against Crosby, that speaks volumes alone!

    In my opinion, I think the market inefficiency the leafs were exploiting with the Martin contract was with his usage. Instead of having 2 top lines, Babcock likes to roll 3 lines with each line having 2 skilled players and a so-called “grinder”.

    Martin I think will be an excellent fit with Matthews and Marner. As you mentioned his defensive play and hitting will be useful on such a line. Also he can go into the physically dangerous areas to retrieve pucks and he can screen the goalie and draw defenders to him who will try to clear him out, while Matthews and Marner play their skilled game.

    Martin can also stop the intimidation after the whistle that otherwise Matthews and Marner would have to put up with. And he can take exception to anyone who might try to take liberties with the two stars.

    I think he’s a great signing. I think Babcock’s plan is to use Martin’s skillset in a far more useful manner as compared to his usage with the Islanders.

  • Gary Empey

    Hi folks, many people whose opinions I respect seem to have misunderstood this. It was originally worded differently and I cut nearly a thousand words, many of which because I figured the 5-10 people who’d read this on my own blog (this wasn’t originally written for TLN) didn’t need certain clarifying points, and I wanted to make it as quick a read as possible. I’m not sure why very smart people decided, after I pencilled two teenagers with 19 combined NHL games into right wing slots, that any part of this was based on “experience.” Noting that the Leafs lacked depth on the left wing side after JVR was about noting that there are very few players who MUST play in the NHL. It’s fair to want Leipsic, Rychel, Soshnikov, and Leivo to have a chance, but if your point is to balance the roster, which is observably something Mike Babcock, who has had a ton of NHL success, values highly, then you can basically assume a right winger like PA Parenteau will not get nearly the opportunity to provide value that Martin will. This assumption was never “the kids had to be blocked” – and if that was my view, I’d be more likely to be demanding they sign Martin, Parenteau, and more depth guys. The assumption is that Laich and Greening aren’t in the team’s plans, and it’s an assumption to think that Rychel, Leivo, Leipsic, or Soshnikov can play a serious role in the NHL yet, especially a more defensive role that will only one of the many right wing options fills. Nowhere do I say the signing was good, smart, or even my personal preference. This is entirely a description of what Martin brings to the team, and what I think attracted them to the option. The few people tweeting (and I hate how specific my response has to be here, because it’s only a few people atm, all of whom are smart folks) seem to be imagining a lot of stuff that isn’t said into the article because of what they assume of anyone who isn’t ready to jump down the throats of Leafs’ brass over the contract. I could’ve made the post significantly longer, and explained the ways it could go wrong, and detailed the issues with paying market value for a common asset, but considering draglikepull posted something on that all of one day ago, I figured everyone had that in mind.

  • not_SorjeBalming

    I don’t get why ppl are freaking out about this signing (especially on this site) so thank you for this!

    Sure, it would have been nice to get him with less term at a lower cap hit BUT he is a good grinder, good defender and good role model. Let’s equate that to $1.5mm/yr. He is also good at punching ppl in the face and can be the Sheriff so to speak to make sure other teams don’t pick on our kids. A good face puncher would likely get a $700k-1mm/yr deal…and take up an extra roster spot. Martin takes up one roster spot and can serve both roles as I see it.

    Would ppl be freaking out if they signed him to a 4-yr $8mm contract? Probably not so I think we’re going bananas over a marginal amount of money. Yes, small mistakes can add up indeed, but I don’t think this is a mistake so take a deep breath and enjoy your Summer because come October most of you will like what Martin brings…trust me!!!

    • Kanuunankuula

      The reason people don’t like this:

      -he’s unlikely to become any better than he is now = this move has no potential “win”

      -his value is overvalued (like you here did)

      -term is too much, if his physical play leaves it’s mark, his contract becomes an anchor, be it a small one.

      -the money could be spent in a way more efficient way. If we were now 10 mil under the cap, people would most likely be more understanding, but alas were a cap team.

      -this might limit our other moves (combining it with Polak)

      -we’re really tight now, and have to play hardball with matthews’ bonuses. I bet this really makes him feel great about the organization. We hand out millions to marginal talent, and are stingy to our future 1st line center?

      • Harte of a Lion

        Im pretty sure Polak has a one year deal and will be Winnik 2.0.

        Why do we need 10 mill in cap space?

        Edmonton proved you cannot put a line up of rookies, no matter the talent level.

      • TGT23

        Okay. No.

        -The “win” is if he does the job the team needs him to. Plays his roll.


        -Term is too much, but an anchor? I think that’s a bit much for a 2.5M AAV. And a lofty assumption to think he’ll even be here to see the end of his deal.

        -That’s short sighted. They are a cap team. Right now. Before they trade one, or a couple, or all of their six one-year contracts.

        -How? What moves?

        -Finally, they have about 7 players on the final year of their contract worth about 25M. Those seem like the kind of situation where those players will not be here come the deadline, freeing up more space.

        So, I doubt sincerely they’ll be stingy with Matthews.

        And next season? 25M off the books PLUS whatever they get taken off from the expansion draft. Probably 4M of Bozak, but maybe 5.25 of Lupul. Or, would it surprise anyone if it’s the 2.5M of Martin?

        The team has preached patience. So… patience. Next off-season is the key off-season. They’ll have all the cap in the world and we’ll finally see how smart this management staff really is.

        • Kanuunankuula

          -What’s the win here? He’s not absolutely terrible? He’s not going to be any better than he is. Which is a career fourth liner, at best. The role can easily be done by other players, even inside the organization.

          -If you value 4th line at 2.5 per player, then what about 3th line? 2nd? 1st? You see where this is going?

          -4 years can be a long time if he begins to suck

          -Yeah, now. Why be a cap team just for the hell of it? Also you seem to forget that atleast Nylander & Zaitsev needs a new contract during that time?

          -Well, you’re not going to know the moves that failed, and neither am I? But let’s assume they’re looking for a top D. Can’t trade for him or sign him because we’re at the cap.

          -It’s extremely foolish to assume we can trade all the players that we don’t need/want at will. Or is there a reason Bozak’s still a Leaf? Expansion draft also takes one player. So would you rather they take Michalek/Bozak/Lupul etc or the 2.5 mil Martin?

          We’ve seen this, cap space is an asset. Use it wisely and not just throw it away at every junction. It adds up.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Thanks for the clarification, Michael. It works. You reason out the logic of the Martin signing. Paying more for him than PAP is a good way to formulate it. I think you are right that MM will do more for Marner and Matthews than PAP ever could (and I like Parenteau). In this sense, Martin enhances rather than eclipses our young guns.

    One question: what do you mean by “market inefficiency?” The term is catching fire on the hockey blogosphere — and I am getting confused.

    The draft, I understand. You have 30 teams (buyers), 211 players (sellers) in reiterated potential transactions each year, and add in untold overagers; the number of potential transactions can reach a thousand or more. The market inefficiency that the Leafs exploited this time around was the discounted value of previously undrafted players. Data show that the propensity exists. The Leafs jumped on it. Let’s hope it pans out — and, statistically at least, the prediction is that it should, on balance.

    But the UFA market is different. Fewer buyers, many fewer sellers, and when you get down to the niches that buyers are seeking to fill, it’s what we call a “segmented market.” (Some teams need top-D, some want a new sniper, etc; they are not all shopping for commensurable players).

    But is it inefficient? Inefficiencies are usually the result of something structural (poor information, unfair competition, untransparency, herding, the kind of stuff that screws those outside the charmed circle; the price does not reflect the value added at the margins).

    Why is hiring Matt Martin an example of a market inefficiency? If the Leafs could have got the same player at a lower price, or for the same price a better player, then management made a mistake. It’s not that the market was inefficient. To my mind, anyway.

    If anyone else can help me understand how we are all using this term, by all means chime in.

  • Jeremy Ian

    @Jeremy Ian

    A market inefficiency is when people misvalue something relative to its inherent worth. I’m not a finance expert, but basically say a company goes public and its stock sells at a high price because of misguided assumptions about its growth potential, how strong the company is already, etc.

    So, in sports, there’s an objective end goal. To make your team more likely to win. The winner of a game is going to be the team that puts up more goals in that game, and the team’s most likely to win Stanley Cups are the team’s that were best at scoring goals and preventing goals against. In a regular market, it isn’t really correct or incorrect to value an apple more than an orange based on personal preference, and money has value relative to how people value goods and services. So, if you buy an apple for five cents more than an orange, it’s nobody else’s business how you spent that money. That’s how much you personally value the difference in taste, and since your post-tax income exists to sustain and fulfill you, to at least some extent, your decisions with money are going to be representative of what it takes to fulfill you.

    In hockey, because 23 league minimum minor leaguers will cost $12.5 million. The salary cap is about $73 million. Let’s say, just tossing a number out here, that a team of replacement level $500k minor leaguers, that is, 23 players who are as you can expect from a non-prospect that you called up, puts up 50 points in a season. Each additional dollar spent of the $60.5 million needs to be spent based on how many additional points your team will get for that price. Since salary caps mean there are rarely large differences between what teams spend in general, the market price for a player is going to correlate with a team that has $60.5 million to spend above replacement level, and accrew about 91 points (about league average), which given out example of a 50 point replacement team, would be about 41 points over replacement.

    Now, some teams don’t spend to the cap, so it’s not thiiiiis simple, but I think everyone gets me and I prefer to be ultra basic here. Now, the thing here is that you don’t want to be average. You want to win the Stanley Cup. So, you should aim to be able to use your resources better than other teams. You have to be mindful of how much playing time you can give someone, and how money exists, and about how many goals for or against you expect to improve relative to what you already have, which in this example is a replacement player. So, the goal is to get players who provide more value than other players who cost the same amount of money as them, or another example, given our hypothetical numbers here, let’s say you run this team, and your goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Let’s say you’ve decided you have to be a 110 point team to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe not actually get 110 points, things happen, but that good. So, that’s sixty points above replacement. With $60.5 million to spend above replacement, given they’re taking the spot of a $500k player, their salary minus $500k shouldn’t be higher than $1M for every point of value they create for your team. If a player, given all these hypothetical numbers and parameters, makes $3.5 million, then this replacement level team, should now finish with 53 points per 82 games, rather than 50, with this new player on the team instead of the player he’s replacing. As you move, you need to be aware of how else you can get players with similar values, and how much value you’re removing from the team by taking up another player’s ice time, preferred linemate, etc.

    It’s damn near impossible to quantify, but this is the attitude a GM is going to have to have. Your goal is always to underpay. Players who make what the average team would pay them play for average teams and lose in the first round of the playoffs. Every time you pay a player what the market would have paid him, you’re putting yourself further from the Cup, because the best teams win Cups, and you have a limit to how many minutes, contracts, roster spots, and dollars you can use. But if everyone spends to the cap, and all other parameters are true, then the guy the market spends $2 million above replacement on is making 1/30 of your marginal space, and will be worth, on average 1.36 additional points above replacement level to your team per 82 games. Your goal is to get those extra 0.64 points, or better, out of $2 million. Save every penny because every penny below the average cost of that number of points of value creates more potential for your team. I doubt my example numbers are close to correct, in terms of a replacement team getting 50 points, but that’s why it’s good to get undervalued players. If you were to say, get a desperate Kris Versteeg and Brad Boyes right now, when you previously had two replacement level players, and let’s say you got them for $1 million each. Subtract the two players who get demoted, and you’ve increased payroll by $1 million. Versteeg and Boyes, even with these hypothetical numbers, and even in a limited role, probably both provide more than a point of value. Let’s say on the fourth line they each provide two. Your team has gone from $12.5M in payroll and 50 points to $13.5 million in payroll and 54 points. If you spend your remaining dollars on value that is exactly as good as the market dictates, you end up at 94-95 points, instead of 91. So you’ve taken the first step. Say you spend $4 million on a guy who doesn’t improve your replacement team by any points? That means you now have $56.5M to get the 60 points you want to get 110 points.

    So, the point here is that you want guys that are underrated. Players who make a bigger difference per dollar made than the market will give them. You shouldn’t get into bidding wars for non-superstars (all of whom in any sport generally make a bigger impact than their price) because your goal should be to pay less for every point you’ll improve than other GMs. It’s sorta creepy and weird to think of actual human beings who get beaten in as a number they’ll improve you and a number of dollars that is low enough to justify, but this is the approach you take to win.

    As for Martin, a lot of people are skeptical that he will improve his team as much as $2.5 million of spending improves the average team. He shouldn’t be expected to. He should be expected to improve them more, or else it’s not a move towards a Stanley Cup. I’m pretty damn skeptical that Martin can improve the team as much as his salary suggests, especially in the minutes he’ll play. But that isn’t really the point here. I didn’t really want to sign any UFAs besides Stamkos, but Martin over Polak outside all other context makes some sense because the current construction and style of the team is much better suited to maximize Martin’s potential than Parenteau’s, and I think the Leafs have a better chance of getting additional points with Martin than Parenteau. But I wouldn’t want to pay for him. As the thesis of this post says, the point is that Martin is consistent with a process that Babcock values. Everyone freaks out because the dumb team pay for size, and I’m saying that Martin, while overpaid, was likely signed because of his fit and not just to get bigger for its own sake. Every cap dollar matters, but given how much the market has overpaid for size before, I’d rather my team overpay guys because they fill a particular role and spot than overpay them for size, and the concern is more focused on how the process may have changed, rather than this particular $2.5 million cap hit.

    • not_SorjeBalming

      Just throwing this out there…but…is replacement value not going to be the cap floor? or at least some kind of in between number of the one you say is replacement ($12.5M) and the floor of salary cap?

      The market is going to dictate things…and you have some non-cap teams that will over pay for some players…this makes you over pay as well in some cases..does it not?

      I realize everyone is about value…but you cannot build a team with 1yr show me deals on a constant rotation that is going to be more than 1 or 2 max per year per team. Plus..I think the leafs exploited that hole a few years back with Mason Raymond and I am not sure there are as many teams looking to trade for those guys come trade deadline day. I could be wrong..but I think that cat is out of the bag. I think the media in T.O. made certain players better than they were (Franson comes to mind) and the leafs exploited that for a few years. I don’t think that is likely to happen as often anymore.

      So while I agree with what you are saying about value being important…it’s also a game …a team game that has to come together at the right time with the right mix of players (penguins anyone?)

      • Jeremy Ian

        This is true, now. Contracting flippable players is not what it used to be. This is why we are seeing the UFA market evolve. But I am not sure it will wholly get rid of the short-term guys.

        I have a hunch that the cap is going to be a more and more compressing force on team payrolls as the contenders lock up higher-priced, long-term core members, but have to shed the rest on a more rotating basis. Chicago has had to do it; the Bolts are going down that road now with Hedman and Stamkos signed.

        What we’ll get are bifurcated teams — at least among the contenders (who have the resources to dish out for the franchise players), with your top lines and d-pairings as core players and the rest more journeymen on shorter contracts, less money, and sometimes even having to fight their way onto the bench as last minute try-outs. How coaches and managers handle this gap within their teams will be important in defining long-term success.

        The Leafs are nowhere near that situation; but they will be in about five years time.

        This is just the business side of it, but it will affect how teams establish that “right mix” that you are talking about.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Hey Michael:

      Thanks so much for the detailed and thoughtful reply — I get a better sense of what you are driving at. My query’s a little more esoteric. No need to go on about it here. I agree that market inefficiencies are when prices and values are misaligned. That can be the result many things, including the psychology of bidding wars (sometimes known as “competitive arousal”). You are right to warn GM’s against this; to Lou’s credit, he’s always been a vocal critic of the habit, and this time around was no exception. (He does not, mind you, always keep his money restricted to where his mouth is).

      Matt Martin was not auction-fevered onto the Leafs, though you are right the team paid a higher price and longer term than would have been ideal; but they were in a competitive situation, esp with the Red Wings. (Which is why I am not sure it’s because of a market inefficiency; actually, there was relative scarcity of what Matt Martin brings to the ice in proportion to the two teams we know were demanding the services.)

      One reaction to Martin is to say it’s a disaster. A waste.

      Yours is to say: differentiate between what Martin does contribute to the team from the cost and it’s not as bad as the doom-and-gloomers claim.

      I agree.

    • Harte of a Lion

      With the space he will create for the kids (Matthews, Marner, Nylander and possibly others) he will add huge value to the team. I bet the second most popular jersey next year behind Matthews will be Martin.

      Look at how Soshnikov learned to grow his game after playing beside Clune with the Marlies. He turned into a buzz saw pest with a cannon for a shot. 18 goals, 13 @ es, 2 sh, 3 pp.

      I’m not implying either Marner or Nylander need to change their style of play, however they need to play tougher in tougher areas. I’m considering how Willie got pushed around by both the Bears and the Americans. Toughness is as much a mental attribute as it is physical. Martin can teach the kids how to take care of themselves while he isn’t on the ice. By adding toughness throughout the entire lineup through this one signing, this is Martins true added value.

      Sometimes it takes a poke in the nads, just an example… To show other players that you belong at that level.

  • SEER

    How about we all watch him play 10 reg. season games, before we get too worried.., or excited..?


    This was one of our best Draft picks this year.. #1 Scorer, in the WHL.., with a ton of setting up plays, as well as scoring.. : )

    Adam Brooks /
    Center / shoots L /
    Born May 6 1996 / Winnipeg, MAN. /
    20 yrs. ago /
    Height 5.10 / Weight 178


    2013-14 – Regina Pats – WHL
    60 Games… 4 Goals… 7 Assists… 11 Points… -9
    4 Games… 0 Goals… 1 Assist…1 Point… +/- 0
    2014-15 – Regina Pats – WHL
    64 Games… 30 Goals… 32 Assists… 62 Points… +24
    9 Games… 4 Goals… 3 Assists… 7 Points… +3
    2015-16 – Regina Pats – WHL
    72 Games… 38 Goals… 82 Assists… 120 Points… +41 *PPG+
    12 Games… 7 Goals… 16 Assists… 23 Points… +5 *PPG+

    Top WHL Scorer: Adam Brooks 2015-16 Goal & Assist Highlights – TML (HD)


  • Gary Empey

    Certain people and writers don’t see any value whatsoever in having a defensive player on the roster. Bottom six or anywhere else for that matter.

    The writing was on the wall with the hiring of Babcock. He expects everyone in his 23 man roster to also play a defensive role. His whole coaching style is defence first.

    One way forwards or defencemen are not going to be able to cut it on Babcock’s teams, no matter how good their offensive game is.(Subban)

    Matt Martin was not hired to drop the gloves. It was his ability to play a similar game to Leo Komarov that interested the Leafs. Those 3rd man in, and instigator penalties, hand injuries, kill the game plan. Not withstanding sometimes it happens. He will only be able to protect the young guys to a certain degree. All young guys in the league are going to be tested. They will all pay their dues.

    There are not that many players in the league that play the same style as Komarov with speed.

    If you want more goals and don’t care about defence, Yak is on the market.

    As for value. Komarov makes $2,950,000.

    We have seen him play. Do we feel we get our money’s worth from him?

    If Martin is not as good as advertised, the Flyers are always in the market for these types of players.