Matt Martin saw two seasons with Maple Leafs as character building
Matt Martin has long had the reputation of being a character player for the Islanders, always willing to stand up for his teammates, always active in the Long Island community.
But Martin also spent two seasons with the Maple Leafs from 2016-18 after leaving the Islanders via free agency. Asked about that period of his career before the Islanders faced the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night at UBS Arena, Martin called it “character building,” as he learned to handle being a regular healthy scratch in his second season in Toronto.
“My second year was challenging from the standpoint of being out of the lineup a lot,” Martin said. “I think you learn a lot about yourself, that you can persevere, overcome, be resilient. I think I was healthy scratched 30 straight games or something. In saying that, it was still a great experience. One of my closest friends is Mitchie [Marner], who I met there.
“At the time it was frustrating and challenging. But when you come out the other side of it, I’m proud of the way I handled it and, ultimately, I’ve been pretty successful since.”
Lou Lamoriello, then the Maple Leafs general manager, signed Martin to a four-year, $10 million deal on July 1, 2016 after Martin had spent his first six NHL seasons with the Islanders. The physical left wing first combined with center Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck in 2014 to form the Islanders’ longstanding identity line, also dubbed by some the best fourth line in the NHL.
“It’s rare to play for the same team for a number of years,” Cizikas said of Martin leaving for the Maple Leafs. “It was weird at the start but you kind of get used to it. But’s nice to have him back.
“You want what’s best for your friends and that opportunity for him was what he thought was best for himself and you can’t blame somebody for doing that. I was happy for the contract he got.”
But the first trade Lamoriello made after being named the Islanders president on May 22, 2018 was to re-acquire Martin for goalie Eamon McAdam on July 3, 2018.
In a sense, Martin had never left.
He purchased a home on Long Island after signing his deal with the Maple Leafs and he continued to run his youth hockey camp at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow.
“It’s valuable, just a life lesson in a way,” Martin said of his two seasons with the Maple Leafs. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. But I still obviously believed in myself and believed I could still contribute at this level. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to come back here and I’ve tried to make the most of it since I’ve been back.
“That seems like a distant memory now. Very challenging in the moment but I think I’ve become better and more strong willed coming out the other side of it.”
Martin had five goals, four assists and 123 penalty minutes in his first season with the Maple Leafs, then had three goals, nine assists and 50 penalty minutes in just 50 games in his second season as coach Mike Babcock limited his ice time.
Martin, 33, has one season remaining on his current four-year, $6 million deal. So questions about his long-term future with the team may soon start again.
Tuesday marked his 756th game as an Islander, seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. Bob Bourne is sixth with 814.
“Things change pretty quickly in this business,” Martin said. “I love being part of this organization and I’ve made Long Island my home.”