Clueless

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 06: Paul Martin #7 of the Pittsburgh Penguins passes the puck during the NHL game against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center on January 6, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Rangers defeated the Penguins 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

I came across an article by Josh Yohe today, which said:

Martin, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Penguins in 2010, produced an indifferent campaign during his first season in Pittsburgh. The first six weeks of this season were borderline disastrous, as Martin seemingly was responsible for a goal against on a nightly basis while producing far less offense than expected.

The first claim, that Martin put together an "indifferent campaign" in 2010, is ridiculous. For one, Martin was an exceptional possession player, as he was 2nd on the team in on-ice Corsi. This is even more impressive given that he was doing this against good competition with a relatively average zone start. Indeed, dmen in this league who can skate against top players and out-possess them at the same time are a very valuable commodity. Perhaps the best indication that he had a very good year--and might have been the team's best dman--is that Dan Bylsma leaned the heaviest on Paul Martin at even strength, as he had the most ice time among all of the team's defensemen.

The second claim, that Martin has put together a "borderline disastrous" performance this season, is equally ridiculous. This season, Paul Martin once again has a very high on-ice Corsi. What makes this more impressive than last year, though, is that he's facing much stiffer competition, as he currently leads the Penguins dmen in quality of competition. Though not leading in time on ice this year, he is still racking up big numbers, as Bylsma has leaned heavily on Martin, Letang, and Orpik to eat up most of the team's minutes at even strength.

Yohe might say all of this doesn't matter because Martin isn't scoring enough. Yohe even suggests in the article that he is not scoring as much as expected. This claim has no basis in reality, though. Martin is scoring 0.56 pts/60 min of even strength ice time this year, and was producing at a nearly identical clip of 0.57 pts/60 last year. The season before that, which was his last season with the Devils, saw Martin score at 1.46 pts/60. But this is a highly dubious number to rely on, as Martin only played in 22 games that year. The year before, in which Martin played 73 games with the Devils (a much more reliable sample), saw him produce 0.59 pts/60, right in line with his production the last two years with the Penguins. The claim Martin isn't scoring as much as Josh Yohe thought he would only means Yohe never looked at Martin's stats.

In addition to this, the lack of bigger numbers from Martin during his time with the black and gold is largely due to the lack of production from his teammates. Martin's on-ice Sh% this year is a very low 4.74%, good for last among the team's dmen. Last year, he was in the middle of the pack of on-ice Sh%. The point, though, is that Martin has no control over his teammates shooting percentage, so their inability to put the puck in the net when he is on the ice cannot be a reason to critique Martin's level of play. If his teammates were scoring more, there would be more assists to go around, and Martin would look better than the points suggest. We see evidence for this in his 22 game season with the Devils in 2010. There, where he was scoring at more than twice the rate he is currently at, Martin was fortunate to be the recipient of an incredibly high on-ice Sh% of 11.73%, far and away the best among Devils dmen that year. Those high numbers (which Martin had nothing to do with) led to him racking up way more assists than usual. Once his on-ice Sh% dropped, so did his points, but that is no reason to think Martin has been underwhelming.

The last refuge for Josh Yohe might be that Martin has had mediocre to poor +/- numbers. Last year he was only a +9, and this year he's at a -6. This argument, however, has no merit. Many in the blogosphere have been aware that +/- is useless and driven largely by factors individual players have little control over. This article by Gabe Desjardins is simply one illustration of that point. The lesson of this is to ignore +/- and focus on possession, which is a much better indication of player quality. JLikens at Objective NHL has done research here and here which demonstrates the utility of possession metrics, and Gabe Desjardins has also written at length on the usefulness of Corsi and Fenwick as predictors of future success. Realizing that possession is the critical stat, one can see that Martin has been a very important, and effective, player for the Penguins the last couple of years.

Ultimately, there is really no evidence Martin has been indifferent to disastrous in his performance with the Penguins; the numbers indicate quite the contrary. Penguins fans deserve better than this. Since journalists are supposed to do their research and have keen eyes for the game, statements like the one above do hockey and its fans a disservice. At best, Yohe was just being lazy. At worst, he is clueless.

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