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Paul Martin will start the season with Pittsburgh, but will he end it there?

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The Pittsburgh Penguins need a top 6 forward and don't have options right now. Might impending free agent Paul Martin give them one in a trade later in the year?

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Paul Martin was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins by Ray Shero in the summer of 2010.

His only coach with the Penguins, to this point, has been Dan Bylsma.

It should be no surprise that Martin hasn't wanted to talk contract extension with the Penguins. With the changes made over the summer and Shero/Bylsma losing their jobs, the player can't be assured of what the future holds and understandably isn't in a hurry to commit. Martin will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2015, and when he gets there at age 34, it will be his last big money contract while he's in his earning prime.

For their part, the Pens have several great young prospects about to become NHL players. From Simon Despres to Brian Dumoulin to Derrick Pouliot to Scott Harrington, the next wave is about to hit and join Kris Letang (8 year contract) and Olli Maatta (under team control for the next 6 years) on the Pens blueline for years to come.

Just as it wasn't difficult to see the divorce with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen coming from a mile away, it's clear to see that economic realities will have Martin in a different jersey than a skating Penguin for the 2015-16 season.

This presents new Penguins GM Jim Rutherford with a dilemma in asset management. Should he try to flip Martin for a return while he can? Or does he elect to keep Martin for the full season and allow him to help the Pens for the rest of the season while he is under contract?

There's pluses and minuses to both scenarios, and plenty of time to debate it before the trade deadline. On one hand, Martin has been quite the effective player, helping every partner in Pittsburgh that he's ever had to look better. On the other hand, watching another free agent skate off for no return would be another disappointing blow to organizational assets.

There is, however, a very big wildcard in this equation, and that would be Christian Ehrhoff. The sought after defenseman decided to spur richer and longer offers to join the Penguins this summer on a one-year contract. Well regarded, insider-in-the-know Elliotte Friedman has twice publicly stated the comment that:

..no one would be stunned if [Ehrhoff is] extended not long after Jan. 1. That's when he's eligible to do it.

If the Pens will have Ehrhoff, 32, for longer than just the 2014-15 season, that makes Paul Martin even more expendable. Especially for a team that lost top six forwards in James Neal (trade) and Jussi Jokinen (free agency) this summer, replacing them only with Patric Hornqvist and the hope that Beau Bennett can stay healthy or that Steve Downie can find his 2009-10 form.

Hope isn't a very good strategy in the NHL, especially when the pressure from ownership is on to compete for (read: win) the Stanley Cup. At best right now, the Penguins have five "top 6" forwards, and one of them is 35 year-old Pascal Dupuis, who is coming back from ACL/MCL surgery earlier this year.

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It all adds up to the idea that trading Paul Martin before the deadline makes a lot of sense for the Penguins, in terms of managing their assets. Obviously with injuries, performance and position in the standings, the NHL season presents a  very fluid situation that could quickly change.

For instance, an injury to Letang (who has missed 89 games of the 212 games in the last three seasons) would probably make it wise to hang on to Martin for the sake of keeping the defense strong. Martin himself has missed 59 of the last 130 games since 2014, so it's no guarantee he will be a healthy asset available to be traded come deadline time, even if Rutherford wanted to go that route.

However, should the team have relatively good health, they will be in a position of strength on the defense with all the promising young players. It would make sense to try to back-fill Martin's minutes with Pouliot or Dumoulin if the payoff was to add a badly needed top-six, skill winger. Martin earns a $5 million salary and dealing him would open up enough room financially to bring back an established player.

Let's point out that Martin does have a limited no-trade clause, he could block a trade to an undesirable team, so don't go trading him off to some far away outpost or last place team, that's probably not in the cards. Nor, I'm sure, are the Penguins going to be interested in dealing Martin within the division or conference that might come back and bite them in the playoffs.

Still, at this point the possibilities are wide open, being as any number of things could play out in a long and uncertain NHL season. With the Penguins young defensemen coming along, and Ehrhoff seemingly eager to stick around, Pittsburgh should probably at least explore moving one of their best defensemen in Paul Martin, so that they can give another weapon for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front for the playoffs this season.