Matt Martin has been a fan favorite among New York Islanders fans in every season that he has played in a blue and orange sweater. After leaving the team once to spend a couple of seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Islanders fourth-line left wing finds himself in another free agent position.
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In the past two seasons with the Islanders, Martin has been sitting at $2.5 million average annual value (AAV). The highest that he has ever been valued at in a single season was $3.5 million in the 2016-17 season with the Maple Leafs.
Martin does bring some key elements to the table, but after a decline in physical play in the last couple of seasons and problems with injuries, it does not seem likely that the Islanders will offer him more than his current AAV, especially considering that the Islanders only have a little under $9 million in cap space left.
Martin has a well-earned “tough guy” presence in the NHL. While the league has significantly fewer enforcers than 20 years ago, Martin still brings that old style of play to the ice each night and that is a factor in the reason why the Islanders’ top players can perform to the best of their ability.
His established physical presence brings out an intimidation factor among opponents. Any opponent that lines up a big hit on one of the Islanders’ top players knows that at some point they will then have to face up with Martin. With certain opponents refraining from those big hits, the ice frees up for the Islander forwards to work their magic.
Can We Still Expect A Physical Martin?
The numbers, however, have been deteriorating recently. Martin has not been an 82-game player for the Islanders in either of his seasons since his return from Toronto. That is likely one of the reasons why Martin went from 382 hits in 2014-15 down to 242 in the most recent 2019-20 season.
The truth of the matter is, Martin is approaching his 30-year-old season. With the amount of physicality that he has brought to the table since the very beginning of his career, it was evident that his body would start to get beat up eventually.
Martin is certainly still capable of bringing an above average physical presence to the Islanders. Martin will continue to sacrifice the body for as long as he is in the NHL. The only difference is now he refrains from bringing the energy. He instead has shifted to the chapter in his career where he matches physical energy provided by opponents.
His physicality is still going to be an asset moving forward. It will likely not live up the expectations of what Martin has provided in the past but it will certainly still be effective.
There is no question about it, Martin is among the most passionate players on the Islanders. Martin’s exact words in an interview following the trade back to Long Island were “it’s just such a fun place to live and I’ve always had that part of me that’s cared so much about this organization even when I was in Toronto.” (from ‘Homecoming for Isles’ tough guy Martin,’ Brooklyn Eagle, 07/05/2018)
That gives great insight to the mindset that Martin has towards the Islanders organization and it has always shown in his gameplay.
Anytime it is necessary to sacrifice the body, Martin steps up to the plate. Whether it is blocking a shot, finishing checks, or fighting, he has never shied away from sacrificing the body for his team, which is a big reason why Lou Lamoriello sought out to get Martin back from Toronto.
Martin played his first NHL game in the 2009-10 season, and has a little over 10 seasons of experience in professional hockey. This is always a great asset to have on a hockey team because the younger guys can learn from the examples that have been set by the veterans.
While Martin is not a big goal scorer for the Islanders, he still has a good effect on the young guys. For instance, Martin leading by example could be a reason why Mat Barzal has been playing with more grit.
In the Islanders’ impressive 2020 Playoff run, Barzal proved that he can play with a decent amount of grit in his game. That is, of course, partially from Barzal’s junior hockey experience in the bone-crushing Western Hockey League, but could also be partially linked back to the example that Martin and the other fourth-liners have shown Barzal.
What Should Islander Fans Expect?
Lou Lamoriello should not overpay for Martin to stay with the Islanders. The harsh truth is the fact that Martin’s numbers have been depleting in the last couple of seasons. However, the Islanders should make an attempt at re-signing.
The Islanders will benefit from having Martin on the roster should they come to a deal. It would certainly be a mistake for the Islanders to overpay Martin simply because he is a fan favorite.
Most Islander fans would hate to see him leave, but if Martin is looking for a salary that is equal to or higher than what he is currently making, then he will likely be parting ways with the Island.
With that said, a two or three-year deal at a maximum of $1.5 million AAV should be what the Islanders offer Martin. Hopefully, Martin is willing to accept a pay cut in order to stay on Long Island because he is certainly admired by the Islanders faithful.