Lacing Up: Martin Joins Penguins Coaching Staff
Word came down on Friday that the Penguins had made an addition to their coaching staff as we patiently trudge through the offseason. Jacques Martin is a name that has an undeniable association with hockey and coaching – but for Martin, the odd part is not that Martin will be coaching hockey again, but that it will be in an assistant’s role. It seems that he may be one of the most overqualified people in the NHL today. Martin was a head coach most notably with the Ottawa Senators and more recently, the Montreal Canadiens. So, what’s the angle?
Joshua Neal Jacques Martin is a big name in hockey. There’s no denying that. But he had a rough stretch of things in Montreal that led to his firing. This will be his first re-entry into coaching, as he was working as a television analyst.
Probably the one thing that sticks out about this hiring is Martin’s commitment to defensive hockey – an area where many would agree the Penguins still need to address issues. With Kris Letang under a long-term contract, Paul Martin coming off a turn around season, the Penguins’ reacquiring of Rob Scuderi, and the glut of talented young defensemen waiting in the wings, Martin seems to perfectly address development of the Penguins’ blue line as well as improvement tactically among the established defensemen.
So, Matt, what are your first impressions on this hiring? And what is going through your head if you’re Todd Reirden?
Matt Paul: Initial Impressions? How about ecstatic? Thrilled? Shocked? Okay, so that seems extreme, but from my standpoint, this is a huge step in the right direction for a team that seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.
I, like many, was calling for Bylsma to find a new home following the embarrassing sweep against the Bruins, but if he has to stay, Martin is the perfect man to complement his offense-first approach. For a while it’s seemed as though the Penguins were becoming more like the Capitals and less like the Red Wings with regard to their approach, system, and apparent satisfaction with regular season success. Adding Rob Scuderi was a move in the right direction, but losing Matt Cooke without a suitable replacement was a move in the wrong direction.
Hiring Martin tips the scales back to the positive side of things, but how much control do you think he will have, and is 1/3 of the assistant coaching group enough to influence a significant systematic change?
Josh: I don’t know that Martin’s impact will be felt from a systematic side of things, at least at first. What I’ve ben gathering on Martin seems to indicate that while he does excel at masterminding systematic defensive hockey – remember the Montreal series in 2010? – his impact on the Penguins might be most valuable from an individual player development standpoint.
Martin was a head coach that oversaw the development of Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, and Anton Volchenkov. Sure, there is a systematic element of his hockey that led to their own individual successes, but each one of those players (to some extent) moved on to be a premier shutdown defenseman for another club. Could the Penguins be looking to make good on one of their investments by bringing Martin on board?
It seems to be one of the evident answers if, as Dan Bylsma claims, Todd Reirden’s role won’t be affected for now.
One of the criticisms of Martin, though, is that when he has lineup privileges under his control, he tends to prefer veterans over younger guys. Is this more of the same old story, same old song and dance for Dan Bylsma and his similar philosophy?
Matt: I’m not so sure Bylsma is as adverse to young players as some suggest. I feel he looks to the players he knows can get the job done, which often tend to be veterans. Your mentioning of the solid defenders developed under Martin seems to suggest the same about him. Is he really that adverse to young players in general or is he adverse to young players who aren’t ready?
Your point, though, that his role might be more individualistic than team-focused is interesting and something I hadn’t thought of. With Kris Letang, Simon Despres, and the boatloads of young, high-potential farmhands on defense Martin’s role might focus on developing and teaching these players that there are three zones to an ice rink and that all three are equally important, even if the glory tends to come in the offensive zone.
Is there any thought in your mind that this is a babysitting gig for Martin? In other words, has Bylsma’s leash been shortened now that such an accomplished coach is part of his staff?
Josh: The parallel that instantly hopped to mind when I heard Martin (a viable candidate to take a head coaching job, no doubt – even if his name hadn’t come up in connection to anything this year) was the parallel between bringing Tomas Vokoun in last year. Vokoun was not brought in in the intention of replacing established starter Marc Andre Fleury, just as Jacques Martin has not been brought in to replace Dan Bylsma (though you will hear some rabbling that Martin should take the reins the moment Bylsma’s team is mired in a slump).
So in a way, yes, I think Martin provides a different kind of accountability for the Penguins’ team, whose main problem still seems to be its demons on defense. The offense sputtered against Boston for plenty of reasons, but I think that addressing the defense from an on- and off-ice personnel standpoint is one conscientious decision that Ray Shero has made – only to be further solidified when a selection for goaltending coach has been announced.
All in all, an assistant coach’s impact may be minimal. But if there’s one that might have a tangible impact on this team, it’s a move like this one. Any final words, Matt?
Matt: Not a whole lot other than to once again express my excitement. There’s something to be said of hiring people who know what they’re doing and who’ve had success in the past. With Tony Granato already on staff, the total of current and former NHL head coaches behind the Penguins bench at present is three. That’s significant.
Again, when I look at Detroit, I see Mike Babcock and right beside him is Tom Renney. That’s a successful franchise that’s run up there, and this is a page right out of their book. Will it pay off immediately? Probably not, given that the Penguins are and project to be a successful regular season team. But as the season progresses and the games become tighter, Martin’s influence should begin to show through.
Kudos to Ray Shero for working tirelessly to improve this club.