By Mark Madden
The other night, a Penguins player opined to me that Paul Martin would be a more than ample replacement for Sergei Gonchar, and might even be Gonchar’s equal on the power play.
That’s quite a statement, but it could well be true.
Gonchar was the decade’s best power-play quarterback, no doubt. But the decade’s over. Gonchar made a rash of old-man mistakes down the stretch run, and he’s never been worse than Game 7 against Montreal. Gonchar’s best bet was adrenaline via a change of scenery. The Penguins’ best bet was an upgrade.
That’s what Martin is, an upgrade. Immeasurably better defensively, very solid when it comes to puck possession and distribution. Seven years younger. Gonchar is more accomplished than Martin on the man-advantage, but if the switch means Crosby or Malkin becomes the PP’s fulcrum, maybe that’s for the better.
Martin’s points might go up in Pittsburgh. Perhaps he was shackled by New Jersey’s system.
Martin isn’t quite the minutes-eater Gonchar is. Martin averaged 22:30 of ice time per game last season, Gonchar 24:23. But Gonchar played a lot of soft minutes, too. Not much contact. Not his style.
I’m trying to accentuate Martin’s positives, not Gonchar’s negatives. But it was just time for Gonchar to move on, and for the Pens to move on without him. Flux is a constant in the cap-era NHL. Franchises that handle it best will win the most.
Look at Washington. The Capitals have proven they’re not constructed to win best-of-7 series. Yet GM George McPhee is too in love with this version of his team to make the needed changes. He won’t sacrifice Mike Green or Alexander Semin. McPhee avoids flux.
Flux him. What’s bad for the Caps is good for the Penguins.
One last word on Martin: Brian Burke, the U.S. GM for this year’s Olympics, refused to replace Martin until the last possible minute despite Martin’s broken arm. Martin is a man worth waiting for. Worth gambling on. And worth replacing Sergei Gonchar with.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).