Matt Martin has gone through this before with the Islanders.
And because he did four years ago, the fourth-line stalwart is not thinking about the what-ifs of this coming offseason, when he again will be an unrestricted free agent.
Martin, of course, wound up signing a four-year, $10 million deal with the Maple Leafs, whose general manager was Lou Lamoriello, on July 1, 2016. Lamoriello’s only trade so far as Islanders president and GM was to reacquire Martin on July 3, 2018.
So how will Lamoriello value Martin this offseason?
“I haven’t really thought much about it,” Martin said. “I’ve just been focused on this season. Going through that process once, like anything, you get a better understanding of it. The unknowns of that whole experience are what took up your mind-space. But having gone through it before and knowing what to expect, I’ve just put all my attention on the season and us getting into the playoffs.”
Martin said he expected to re-sign with the Islanders in 2016.
“I certainly thought I was going to be here,” he said. “I played my whole career here and we were a pretty good team at that point. Mentally, I thought I was going to be back. Once free agency came, it kind of took another road. But that’s the nature of this business, right? Playing in Toronto for a few years was really cool. It’s a great city, fan base.
“I’m happy to be back here now,” added Martin, originally from Windsor, Ontario but now expecting to be a lifelong Long Islander, especially after marrying Manhasset’s Sydney Esiason, daughter of Boomer. “We’ll see how it all plays out in the end.”
This season again has proved that the fourth-line trio of center Casey Cizikas, Martin and Cal Clutterbuck is greater than the sum of its parts.
Martin missed nine games from Oct. 27 to Nov. 19 with a left leg injury. Clutterbuck remains out indefinitely after having his left wrist slashed by Patrice Bergeron’s skate blade at Boston on Dec. 19.
Leo Komarov has filled in admirably in Clutterbuck’s absence, providing some of that grit and agitation. But that intangible chemistry that Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck have together still isn’t quite there.
And without the fourth line as an anchor — not to mention spotty production from the third line before this week — coach Barry Trotz has struggled to roll his four lines consistently, as he was able to do most of last season.
Martin, who scored his fourth goal of the season in Thursday night’s 5-3 comeback win over the Kings at Barclays Center, may have to take a backseat in negotiations this summer. Lamoriello must re-sign restricted free agents Mathew Barzal, the top-line center, and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. All three are due significant raises.
Also, Ross Johnston, who provides much of the same physicality as the 30-year-old Martin and turns 26 this month, still has two more seasons on his four-year, $4 million contract.
To Martin, those are all considerations that can wait until the offseason.
“It’s a tight race,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of time to think about anything else.”
Barzal’s between-the-skates power-play goal in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Stars at Barclays Center might have been the Islanders’ prettiest goal of the season. It certainly was one for the highlight reels.
But to Trotz, it also demonstrated the advancements in the NHL, the work the players now put in with skill and skating coaches and the intensified off-ice training methods.
“I think it’s the evolution of the athlete,” Trotz said. “Barzy scores that goal 20 years ago, that’s one of the greatest goals ever. You look at it and go, ‘That’s a nice play.’ That’s one of 30 or so this year. Every generation, the players are stronger, faster.”
Picked from the pod
Kieffer Bellows, in his second season in the Islanders’ organization after being the 19th overall pick in 2016, made his NHL debut with an assist in Tuesday night’s 4-3 overtime win over the Stars at Barclays Center and then scored twice against the Kings on Thursday night.
He also was the guest on Episode 20 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast and discussed the improvements he made with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport after his first season as a pro.
“I felt the consistency in my game needed to be improved and I needed to really focus on that,” Bellows said. “That’s something that, last year, I struggled with in the American League and, I think, this year I’ve done a better job of. That comes from just being in the league and learning. Going through those ups and downs makes you mentally tougher throughout it. I think that has a lot to do with last year and just getting me through this year and just helping me get to where I am.
“Mentally and physically, I know how to prepare for games and the whole lifestyle of being a pro player better this year than I did last year.”
Brock Nelson had 21 goals entering Saturday night’s game at Tampa Bay, giving the center at least 19 goals in six straight seasons. Only five other players in the NHL have done that in the same timespan:
Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) — 15 straight seasons
Patrick Kane (Blackhawks) — 13 straight seasons
Patrice Bergeron (Bruins) — Seven straight seasons
Brad Marchand (Bruins) — Seven straight seasons
Nikita Kucherov (Lightning) — Six straight seasons