The New York Islanders and Matt Martin have agreed to terms on a new contract. But will the deal keep Martin in Blue and Orange after his utility has faded?
Tuesday, The Athletic’s Arthur Staple reported that the New York Islanders and stalwart fourth line presence Matt Martin have agreed to a new four-year contract worth $1.5 million per season. Staple’s report came on the back of Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts, where he expounded on Martin’s contract negotiations.
The deal will keep Martin on the Islanders into his mid-30’s, a reflection of “the loyalty the Islanders feel to him.” As Friedman put it.
But the deal is too long, and it pays too much on top of that. Matt Martin has been a great member of the Islanders team and community for many years, and yes that sort of loyalty should be repaid. But this is the same sort of deal that has already burned the Islanders this offseason.
There are those who will defend the deal, I’m sure. Martin is a character piece. He brings intangibles to the locker room that can’t be counted on a stat sheet or seen on the ice. A $1.5 million cap hit is not that bad an overpayment, and four years isn’t that long. To some degree, some of these things are true.
Martin plays a physical game. He’s strong, both physically and as a puck retriever off of dump-ins. He relies on physicality to be effective. Players like that are necessary and useful, but the problem with them is how early their decline begins and how quickly it accelerates. Thus, the problem with a four-year contract to a bottom-six player already over the age of 30.
Mathew Barzal, a core piece of the Islanders organization has now sat out the first two days of training camp. The Islanders probably have enough money to re-sign him, even with the Martin deal and others still to come. But what of the rest of the core?
Anthony Beauvillier, Ilya Sorokin, Adam Pelech, and Casey Cizikas are all due new contracts next offseason. Those are core pieces that, likely with the exception of Cizikas, will all be due for raises in salary.
Devon Toews was among the Islanders’ best players in transition in 2019-20, defending and exiting his own blue line, and gaining the other team’s with better percentages than any Islanders defenseman. The team couldn’t afford him.
Who will be the next important but flawed core piece that gets moved because of salary cap difficulties? It isn’t a far-fetched question to ask considering it’s already happened.
In reference to the Barzal negotiations, we are constantly hearing what a shrewd negotiator Lou is. The scary part of this then is that these overpayments are beginning to look less like a bug in the system, and more like a feature of it.