Paul Martin had a very good 2008-09. He led the Devils' defense averaging 24:22 per game last season, playing in all kinds of situations. While you will never confuse him with a top level offensive defenseman, he did also lead the Devils' defense in scoring with 5 goals and 33 assists. Martin has never taken more than 36 penalty minutes in a season, so you know his time on the ice is actually there; and he has finished with at least a +20 in the last two seasons where he was truly leading the defense. Given how highly James Mirtle ranked him among defensive defensemen in the league from this past season, and you can easily see that Paul Martin has grown to be a very solid defenseman.
He is clearly the #1 defenseman on the New Jersey Devils. No, he's not a "true #1" where he could lead anyone's defense; but he's a great fit here and that's what counts.
So why am I asking this question? Especially when it becomes more of an issue, say, next May? In terms of skill and performance, he not only has a future - but he's a core player on the Devils. As with many things, money gets in the way. And it could potentially get in the way much sooner than we'd like to think about.
Remember what Lou said earlier this July, as reported by Rich Chere?
"I don't think this is a change in direction," Lamoriello said. "It's a change of people pushing other people. The core is still there. But you can't keep everybody. The cap is going down next year."
(Emphasis mine.) Should Lou be right here, keeping Paul Martin as a Devil could potentially become quite problematic.
While Paul Martin's cap hit is $3.888 million; he's actually making $4.5 million this season according to Cap Geek. In terms of actual salary, Martin is the fourth highest paid Devil on the team. He's earning that money, but it's a significant amount of money. Most importantly, Martin becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2009-2010 season and unless he has an absolutely awful season, I can't see him looking for less money. And with more money comes a bigger cap hit.
As far the salary cap goes, the Devils are already committed to about $42.6 million for 2010-11 to 13 players per Cap Geek's team chart and a potentially falling salary cap, I only realized after yesterday's Zajac resiging that keeping Martin could very well become a big problem. Martin represents a big chunk of cap space being freed up in that scenario, too. The only other 2010 UFAs are Mike Mottau (cap hit of $0.762 million), Yann Danis ($0.5 mil), and Ilkka Pikkarainen ($0.5 mil). Not exactly savings and the Devils will need to fill those holes. Sure, prospects and Lowell players could do that - but then their money comes onto the salary cap, so it's not really "savings." Oh, and RFAs David Clarkson and Rod Pelley will likely be looking for some deserved raises. And I didn't bring up a potential Zach Parise extension (and he needs to be extended, I will not argue this). 2010 is not the summer of Devils cap relief.
If the salary cap really takes a tumble, keeping Martin is going to be much more difficult - maybe not even an option at all unless Lou wants to go through being up at the cap ceiling. Given how 2006-07 went at times with not being able to call up players, I'm going to guess Lou doesn't want to go through with that.
The only saving grace that I can tell is if the salary cap can stay about $53-54 million - allowing the Devils to keep Martin and have enough money to sign quality players for the rest of the team. But should the Devils, like many teams, just hope that revenues will be up enough to justify that? In this economy? I don't think it's wise.
And so, let me suggest a third way. A trade. Should the Devils really need to get better and don't think they will have the space for Martin and to fill in the rest of that roster or get that "quality" second line center or whomever, Martin has to be considered a prime target. He's a very good defenseman, he's the leader of one of the better bluelines in the league, and at 28, he's in the prime of his career. There aren't too many teams that wouldn't want someone like Martin to make their defense significantly better.
Martin also has the additional benefit of an expiring contract. Dainius Zubrus makes too much on too big of a deal. Ditto Bryce Salvador, though he's more move-able than Zubrus. Popular trade suggestions Jay Pandolfo and Colin White actually have no-trade clauses and so can't be traded. Rolston, Elias, and Brodeur are simply not options to be moved. And Zajac and Oduya just signed, so I don't think it's wise to move them anyway. Yes, Martin makes quite a bit, but his deal ends after this season.
You have to trade talent to get talent, and combined with that; if you want the Devils to get quality and have space for 2010, then trading Martin currently makes sense. Of course, it also creates a giant gap on the blueline. Johnny Oduya may improve and could possibly maybe take that spot; but then who fills in Oduya's old spot? It could be a youth movement on defense and it could be very well a rough one.
In all honesty, I want Paul Martin as a Devil for as long as he wants to be here. I cannot stress that enough. But the salary cap, Martin's potential contract demands, and future moves that the Devils may want to do could force Lou to make a tough decision on Martin.
Keeping him could very well hamstring what the Devils do next summer; trading him may bring back talent, but creates a hole on defense; and letting him go leaves the Devils with cap space and not much else. It's not an easy decision to make and while Lou doesn't have to make it now, it's certainly worth considering now. I can't imagine this scenario doesn't come to him during the 2009-10 season. I'm raising the issue now because it's worth the discussion and as a forewarning to what transactions we may see during the next season.
Does Paul Martin have a future as a New Jersey Devil beyond 2010? I'm not making this a poll because the reasoning is just as important as the answer. I'd love to know what you'd think in the comments below.