Paul Martin Signing Signals End Of Sharks’ Transition
SAN JOSE — The transition is over. Now, it’s time to win.
The San Jose Sharks put themselves in a position to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs next season, plugging another glaring hole in the roster on Wednesday by signing veteran defenseman Paul Martin to a four-year, $19.4 million contract.
The addition of the 34-year-old blue liner, along with general manager Doug Wilson’s decision to trade the team’s 2016 first-round pick to the Boston Bruins for goalie Martin Jones on Tuesday, signals the end of the Sharks brief transition from being a tomorrow team to a win-now hockey club.
“The transition is over — that was last year,” Wilson said. “To balance the team, you have to have quality veterans to enhance your younger players and we’re now in the phase of trying to win.”
The opportunity to win now is why the former-Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman decided to sign with the Sharks.
Martin put the Sharks at the top of his list because he saw them as a squad that has the right mix of pieces — a veteran core and young talent — necessary to compete for a Stanley Cup, a top priority as he enters the twilight of his career.
“For me, the most important thing is to win,” Martin said. “I haven’t won a cup yet and when I was leaving [Pittsburgh], I think that was at the top of the list. Besides last year missing the playoffs, San Jose was one of the teams at the top of my list as far as being able to win. [They’ve] proven that they can win.”
Martin was near the top of the Sharks’ wish list, too. He’ll bring a veteran presence to a young blue line, eat minutes and play in a multitude of situations, including the penalty kill.
“He’s one of the first names that we talked about for defense,” head coach Peter DeBoer said. “To get a guy we all felt so highly about — we’re excited.”
Wilson agreed: “What I loved about him is that he wanted to be here. When we first started talking, his agent… said, look Doug, he wants to win. He had many teams after him, but it really resonated with us that he wanted us and we wanted him, so we found a contract that works for both of us.”
Another lure that drew Martin to San Jose was director of player development Larry Robinson, who mentored the American defenseman an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils when he joined the league in 2003-04.
“That’s a big key,” Martin said. “We kind of both are familiar with each other. He knows what I’m capable of and I know the way that he likes guys to play.”
Martin’s acquisition essentially kills two birds with one stone.
He brings experience to a young blue line that was porous last season as the team finished 24th in goals-against average (2.76) and he’ll also bolster a penalty kill that ranked 25th (78.5 percent) in the NHL.
“This guy’s been a staple on everybody’s penalty kill since he entered the league with New Jersey a decade ago. Not the reason we signed him, but another intriguing thing about his game was his ability to kill penalties,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, adding later: “There’s no doubt he’s going to help us in that department.”
DeBoer also sees Martin as a potential complement to Brent Burns, who possesses tremendous offensive gifts and likes to gamble on the blue line. The Sharks want Burns to play aggressively, so they need to pair him up with a steady-eddie defenseman who can perform a role similar to what Andrei Markov provides P.K. Subban in Montreal.
“I coached Brent Burns over at the World Championships [with Canada], he partnered with a guy named Dan Hamhuis, who is a steady-safe-calming presence and I thought it really supported and helped Burnzie with his game,” DeBoer said. “I see Paul Martin being able to slide in there and have that same effect.”
At 34, Martin will be the eldest member of the Sharks’ blue line, four years older than Burns, who’s 30. His addition will help fill the leadership void opened by Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart’s departures last summer.
“As you get older you realize that that becomes more of your responsibility,” Martin said, adding: “I think that just naturally becomes the way that it works.”
With Martin, WIlson said the Sharks’ blue line is in a good place, trending up.
Martin recorded 20 points (3g, 17a) and posted a plus-17 last season while averaging 22 minutes and 47 seconds of ice time a night. Prior to joining the Penguins in 2010-11, Martin spent six seasons with the Devils.
In his 11-year career, he’s been named to three U.S. Olympic teams (2006, 2010, 2014).
With the additions of Martin and Jones, the Sharks have filled their two biggest holes heading into the offseason.
DeBoer is pleased with the form that the roster is taking.
“When I sat down with Doug [Wilson] originally, he really laid out a blueprint of where he saw the team and we were on the same page there and where we wanted to go,” DeBoer said. “He’s just methodically kind of knocking things off that checklist. He’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do. I really like what’s going on and the direction we’re going.”
With roughly $5 million in cap space still available for the 2015-16 season, the Sharks could, technically, still swing another move before the summer ends. When asked if he’s done filling out the roster, WIlson said, “you never know”.
While the Sharks are still exploring available options, Wilson isn’t in a rush to make a move before the team’s development camp concludes in San Jose next week.
“Having these two crucial pieces in place, really allows us a little bit more time to explore some things,” Wilson said. “The development camp this week is really important because it’s a good opportunity for Peter to identify some guys who could be ready to step into our lineup.”
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