Paul Martin has played his way into the doghouse with Pittsburgh Penguins fans following a season in which he drastically underachieved in relation to his $5 million per year salary.

While he’s not nearly as bad as many want to believe, the fact is, he hasn’t been a comfortable fit with the Penguins and Dan Bylsma’s quick-transition system.

Conversely, Martin flourished in New Jersey, playing in the traditional Devils defense-first systems — which ultimately led to his status as a high profile free agent two summers ago.

The transition to Pittsburgh has been far from smooth, and it could be time to cut bait this summer.

With that being said, there’s no question that the 29 other general managers around league have noticed Martin’s average, at best, play of late, and won’t be offering anything sexy for his services.

Instead, it might be required for Penguins general manager Ray Shero to take on a bad contract from another team — you know the classic “change of scenery” swap.

There are plenty of bad contracts in the NHL, but simply taking a bad contract doesn’t help the Penguins. It’s more about finding the right home for Martin and finding a team that has a player who might fit in well with the Penguins.

Enter the Tampa Bay Lightning, general manager Steve Yzerman, and power forward Ryan Malone.

With three years left on a contract paying him $4.5 million annually, Malone is overpaid and has been subject of trade rumors for more than a year.

We all know rumors are just that, rumors — but often times, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Like Martin, Malone has three years left on his contract. And also like Martin, he just hasn’t been the right fit with his current club.

In Tampa Bay, Malone has had just one season of significance following a tour with the Penguins that saw his tenure end with a disappointing Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Going from perennial contender to frequent pretender had to be tough for Malone, who hasn’t been the same player since his days in the black and gold.

Returning to his hometown to play for his first NHL club with some of his best friends could be the spark that Malone needs — just like returning to a defense-first 1-3-1 system could be the spark that Martin needs.

In Pittsburgh, plenty has been made of the Penguins’ lack of size. Malone provides that. There’s been discussion of a need for a top-six forward to flank the left side for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Malone provides that. And there’s been rampant chatter about the need to trade Martin. Malone could provide that.

In Tampa Bay, the Lightning could use a veteran defensive presence. Martin provides that. And if anyone knows the value of a smooth-skating, defense oriented player, it’s Yzerman, who was with the Red Wings organization who thrived with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on the blueline for years. Martin is no Lidstrom or Rafalski, but he has proven to be a similar style player who could provide that for the Lightning.

In short, this trade might not bring what many Penguin fans want (cap relief), but it might be one of the better options out there, given that Martin’s contract is stiff and his value isn’t exactly high at the moment.

And while nostalgia shouldn’t be the reason for any player acquisition, it’s hard not to get excited over the return of an extremely popular player who happens to hail from Pittsburgh.