The future is uncertain for Islanders veterans Matt Martin (left)...

The future is uncertain for Islanders veterans Matt Martin (left) and Cal Clutterbuck. Credit: Brad Penner

Sure, many of their contributions are intangible, but there are two numbers that illustrate the point.

Cal Clutterbuck is the NHL’s career leader in hits, an official category since 2005-06, with 4,029. Matt Martin ranks second with 3,854.

The fact that the two are longtime friends, teammates and linemates adds to the statistical synergy. These guys feel each other’s pain — literally.

But now they share something else, which might portend the end of their road together as Islanders.

Clutterbuck, who will turn 37 early next season, and Martin, who’ll turn 35 on Wednesday, are unrestricted free agents and facing uncertain futures with the franchise.

Both said on Friday, as the Islanders parted ways for the offseason, that they want to keep playing. But with the team in need of fresh legs on an aging roster, that might not happen on Long Island.

General manager Lou Lamoriello was blunt when asked if the statures of Clutterbuck and Martin complicate making decisions about them.

“We have to take out of the equation personal situations,” he said. “We certainly love loyalty, but you can’t impede progress. So whatever decisions have to be made will be made.”

It is difficult to argue for Clutterbuck and Martin in strictly hockey terms, given that Lamoriello needs to opt for youth and speed where he can. But it also is true that losing one or both of his big hitters would be a blow.

On Friday, teammates uniformly spoke about how important they are on and off the ice, no one more eloquently than their longtime linemate, Casey Cizikas.

Asked about playing with them, he said, “It was amazing. That’s the best way I can put it. I was a young kid on the line and they definitely molded me into the player I needed to be. They were there every second.

“I look up to those guys a lot. It’s translated into our friendship away from the arena as well. We’ve been through a lot together. It was definitely a lot of fun.”

Mathew Barzal likened them to big brothers. Anders Lee called them “mentors.”

“They mean a lot to this group and to the fans,” Brock Nelson said.

All professional athletes sacrifice their bodies for their jobs, but some sports ask more than others, hockey and football prominent among them.

And some hockey players ask more of their bodies than others do.

Clutterbuck was particularly proud this season to play 82 regular-season games for the first time. Martin ended the season with a “lower-body” injury that he declined to detail but that will require an MRI.

Their health moving forward figures to be that sort of ongoing crapshoot. But again, neither is ready to stop.

“The retirement narrative wasn’t one I started,” Martin said, referring to weeks of speculation that he might be ready to go. “I certainly plan on playing hockey.”

He added, “Obviously, everyone knows how I feel about this place, and my intention would be to play here . . . I feel like I still have a lot to offer, and I look forward to the next opportunity. I hope that’s obviously here.”

Said Clutterbuck: “I want to play, and I’d love to play here. But obviously, that situation is up in the air.”

Clutterbuck said his injuries over the years mostly have been “bad luck, not the breakdown of my body.”

Perhaps, but bad injury luck tends to find players in their mid-30s more than in their mid-20s.

Martin left Long Island once before, playing in Toronto for two seasons from 2016-18. But he is as closely associated with the Islanders of the past decade-and-a-half as anyone.

In hockey and roster construction terms, it might be time to move on, but that will not change the larger arc of Martin’s time here, nor of Clutterbuck’s.

As for the famed “Identity Line” with Cizikas, which last played together in late February, Clutterbuck called its longevity “crazy. Literally, it’s something that doesn’t happen, I don’t think, very often . . . I’ve been very, very fortunate to be part of a line that has had that collective longevity and the ability to really help this team do things, and I think we provided something that was unique.”

Martin said, “It was great. Whether we’d ever be back together again, I don’t know, but they’re two of my closest friends.

“I think when we look back on it, we’ll be proud of the way we played and the way we handled it and were a pretty effective group for a long time.”

Is that time up? Maybe. But Clutterbuck said, “I will be an Islander for life, whether I get a chance to play here next year or not.”


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