In 2018, Matt Martin came home, ditching that Maple Leafs jersey for the familiar orange and blue. And, on Tuesday, it was revealed he may very well be staying home for good.
Though Islanders president Lou Lamoriello previously said the fourth-liner signed a contract extension, the newfound specifics indicate that Martin could very well end his career with the Islanders: four years, $6 million, according to a report in The Athletic.
Martin will be 36 when his deal expires. He was not made available by the team on Tuesday.
The signing means a $1.5 million average annual valuation during a two-year stretch where NHL teams will have a flat $81.5 million cap. That flat cap could potentially be extended. The move leaves the Islanders with around $2.4 million in cap space, but they’ll be able to exceed that by another $6 million, courtesy of Johnny Boychuk's contract. Boychuk's career-ending eye injury has placed him on the long-term injured reserve.
All that likely leaves room for a number of leftover signings, the most important of which would be that of Mathew Barzal, who could expect a deal similar to Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Blue Jackets forward just signed a two-year, $10 million bridge contract with a heavy back end.
Though Barry Trotz couldn’t confirm Martin’s new contract, he said he was pleased with the prospect of having him for the long term. The Islanders fourth line of Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck has been one of the best in the NHL when all three are healthy (though last season that was seldom).
The trio combined for seven goals and five assists in last year’s playoffs, with Martin getting five goals and an assist. "They are way better as a threesome," Trotz said. "They play together. They react off each other . . . It just works better when they’re together. We didn’t have a lot of that last year and that was hard on us, on our team."
However, there are obvious concerns. Martin is an especially physical player and was fifth among hits leaders for the last two seasons — a style of play that isn't exactly easy as an athlete ages. Trotz, though, said that while Martin isn’t going to change what works, he’s also shown the ability to mature his game, epitomized, he said, by his playoff performance.
"There are a lot of players that come into the league and they’re rambunctious and they’re physical and that really makes them special in the league, and [when] they get away from it, so does their career," Trotz said. "Matt understands how he has to play and how he’s effective, but he’s also grown his game. He had five goals in the playoffs. We saw how effective he was. With any luck, he could have had six or seven goals . . .[I mean] second chances, the rebounds, the ones that just get down because you’re hacking and whacking over the crease. I think he’s effective and continuing to be effective."
Jordan Eberle, whose contract will expire when Martin’s does, said he was thrilled to hear his teammate will be in it for the long haul.
"He doesn’t get as much notoriety as maybe other guys do, but he brings every night the energy and the passion," Eberle said. "He’s a huge part [of that fourth line] with his hits and physicality and the current level of him blocking shots and fighting for teammates. These are the guys that are called glue guys and bring your team together. I’m happy to see him get that done."
And though there may be detractors — especially as fans wait impatiently for the team to secure Barzal — Trotz said that Martin’s continued maturity will be a boon. It’s possible he’ll experience some wear and tear as he ages, but the mental aspect of the game will get easier.
"He just continues to work on his game and sometimes you get to the point where things slow down by just a half second, and a half second is a mile in the game sometimes," Trotz said. "I think he’s just very comfortable and his skill level has continued to increase. He’s just gotten better and better and that says a lot about Matt, that he hasn’t gotten comfortable staying where he is."
Well, sort of. He seems plenty comfortable being back home for good.