Matt, you were a class act with the New York Islanders. We’re going to miss you most of all.
I’ve gotten sentimentality out of the way and bid farewell to Kyle Okposo. Lighthouse Hockey did a pretty grand job of covering Frans Nielsen that I’m not sure anyone can really duplicate. That leaves us with Matt Martin. Beyond the sentimentality and actual concrete numbers that we’ll miss from each of the three free agents who walked away, Matt Martin’s absence is going to be missed most and I’ll tell you why: his was the face of the franchise.
Now before everyone goes off the rails about John Tavares, I’m not talking about carrying the franchise. I’m not talking about the best player or whose face is on billboards and buses. I’m not talking about skill, awards, All-Star appearances or any of the things Tavares does and has done to actually save this franchise and keep some level of faith in its ability to thrive. In almost every aspect Tavares is everything to the New York Islanders. Except this.
This is about accessibility. It’s about connection. The Islanders aren’t bad at giving the fans who pay for it accessibility to its players. And once upon a time, they weren’t bad at offering their players up for signings and meet and greets. I don’t see that so much in Brooklyn (which isn’t a knock on the Barclays Center so don’t read into that) and I’m pretty far away from Long Island so I can’t bring my family to practices on the off chance they’ll get a glimpse.
While social media can be a blessing and a curse, Martin is one of the few players fairly accessible on it and his lady, Ms. Esiason, offers glimpses into their lives. She’s a public figure in her own right, but she’s a fan too, and she interacts with people. Their personalities are open and they are humanized. They offer something for the fan sitting back to connect to and it could be something as simple as a love of dogs or philanthropic work.
Martin isn’t a fan favorite solely for his ice presence. He’s the grassroots guy pounding the pavement and selling the product with his personality.
I’m not suggesting every guy on the team or all athletes should be active on social media and that we shouldn’t respect their privacy, because Twitter can be a hateful, bottomless pit of despair. But it can also be a great public relations tool, too.
And in the public relations department, the Islanders fail miserably in connecting these boys to the people that admire and root for them. I highlight that with this: how many more people connected to Travis Hamonic after his ESPN piece?
The Bruins have Behind the B and Bruins Academy. The Capitals have Caps Red Line. Minnesota has Becoming Wild (which ironically is including our own Nick Leddy). The Penguins do In the Room. And seriously, many teams can take lessons from the Penguins PR team. It’s more than a winning product that draws people to them and accessibility is one of those things.
The Islanders had Matt Martin. He was out there at the VMAs, getting filmed at John Varvatos. Connecting. Now that he’s gone, it seems like so much of the personality and human interest part of this team will be locked up and sorely missed.