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Islanders Grades: Radek Martinek, fountain of health(?!)

Barring any decisions not to qualify RFAs (as the Islanders did with Sean Bergenheim last summer), the Islanders have just a handful of players who might walk this summer. Most prominent among them in terms of time served is Radek Martinek, a nine-season Islander who remains unsigned and recently refuted the Russian report that he is KHL-bound. Martinek's NHL career has been marked by injuries both fluke and structural. Yet here in his walk year, he tied with Jack Hillen (another victim of some freak injuries) for most games played (64) on the decimated Islanders blueline.

The decision GM Garth Snow faces on whether to re-sign him comes down to several factors: Depth (both in prospects and in returning but post-surgery pros), alignment (Marti is a righty), price (it's hard to imagine him breaking the bank) age and, of course, performance. It is that last question we ponder here today. Because while Martinek's 2010-11 was one of his healthiest and offensively on par with his best, defensively the microstats offer a mixed bag.

Martinek has been known as an underrated stopper with the "when healthy" caveat. In past seasons he was able to spy players like Alex Ovechkin and keep them in check. Can he be expected to do it again? With the emergence of Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic, does he even need to?

Further, this season was his first after major knee surgery ended his 2009-10. Can he be expected to rebound further thanks to that surgery + one year effect some players speak of, or does age cancel that hope? (And does it matter if he's a risk to get injured again?)

The Case For

In addition to his occasional task-specific defensive roles, Martinek is skilled enough to move the puck out of his zone reliably, smartly, and contribute the occasional offense when (rarely) put into that offensive position. He is versatile enough that he can be a mobile puck-mover or a more conservative stay-at-home guy to free up a mobile guy like Jack Hillen. This versatility is what's made him an appreciated if unsung fixture for the Islanders and, recently, the target of trade deadline interest.

(For one beyond-the-boxscore bit of evidence on this, check this comment on Isles Zone Shift at Behind the Net: Essentially, over the last three seasons up through February of this season, no Islander has been more reliable, when starting in his own zone, at getting play to move to the opposition's zone. More on Zone Shift here.)

Finally, there is the question of, "If not Martinek, then who?" That's another wild card, as if you're planning on his replacement from outside then you're subject to the whims of NHL free agents who, among upgrades, usually look for a clear contender first. If you're planning on replacing him within then you are subject to the development of Ty Wishart (promising), the return to health of Mark Eaton (likely), and the return both to health and form of Mike Mottau (debatable on both counts), among others. You can throw Calvin De Haan into that mix; though many project him for Bridgeport in his first pro season, the Isles have been high on him in his two previous training camps so it won't be a surprise if he arrives on the Island at some point next season.

Via Dobber Hockey, here were Martinek's most common partners:


You are quite free and encouraged to consider the quality of those partners when pondering the figures I'm about to loosely cite below.

The Case Against

Martinek's age (35 in August) and injury history hardly bare repeating. Although I'll say this: among defensemen in their mid-30s, I'll always bet higher on the more mobile, less physical types like Martinek than I will on the Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton types for whom physicality takes its toll and speed was never an attribute.

GP G A P +/- PIM Hits TOI PKtoi Corsi Rel QoC SoG
2010-11 - Radek Martinek 64 3 13 16 -5 35 69 20:50 2:36 -6.1 (5th) 3rd 97

Those column links and the data/links below are from Gabriel Desjardins' site.

The offensive production here is really about what you expect. Martinek isn't used on the powerplay much and isn't placed in offensive-friendly situations, so 3-13-16 is fine for a guy whose career highs are 17 points and 6 goals.

As for microstats, there's a major caveat here in that the Islanders only had six defensemen appear in even 40 games this year, and Martinek's non-Hillen partners (75% of his even strength minutes) were all over the map. I don't tend to put a lot of stock in the clarity of advanced rate stats until we hit 40 games or so. So the QoC column above just tells you he was 3rd on the team in terms of quality of competition faced -- pretty clearly he was on the second pairing as Hamonic and MacDonald faced the tougher opposition.

The Corsi Rel column points to his relative Corsi (Corsi when he's on the ice minus the team's Corsi when he's off the ice), which was only fifth among those six defensemen (behind Bruno Gervais but ahead of Milan Jurcina). In terms of zone starts (where a coach puts a player to start out his shift), Martinek was put out for offensive draws only 44.7% of the time, which is similar to the defensively oriented MacDonald but not a great deal different from his teammates. (Hamonic had the "cushiest" start at a mere 46.2% of O-zone starts.)

Interestingly, if we expand this field to those who played 20 or more games, we see that Eaton was by far given the toughest assignments before his injury. His O-zone start was 39.9%. Despite that tougher assignment load, Eaton's Corsi Rel (-5.9) was similar to Martinek's -- yet, depend on which measure you use, Eaton's quality of competition was higher than Martinek's and possibly the highest of any defenseman on the team.

But of course Martinek's second most common partner after Hillen was Eaton himself, which tells you Eaton and Martinek drew similar assignments before Eaton's injury pushed Hamonic and A-Mac into that role while Martinek's work "softened" slightly with Hillen.

In English, Please

All of which is to say, Martinek obviously wasn't the most important defenseman on the team, and his use in a shutdown role may no longer exist. Hamonic and MacDonald performed better than him in that department, Mark Streit will surely slot in above him, and Eaton if he returns healthy might also get tougher assignments again but with someone else. (I don't think the Eaton-Martinek pairing was so important that they insist on reconstituting it. But Eaton's other partners were James Wisniewski and Jurcina, so who knows.) However, the quiet Czech sure is versatile.

So the argument to keep Martinek around is that he represents legit (and cheap) NHL depth and a right-handed shot that pairs nicely with Hillen, for example. The argument to let him go has to do with the long-running age/health questions as well as the thought that his potential replacements (Wishart? The next prospects in line?) probably represent more upside.

I've argued for keeping Martinek around because I prefer depth, depth, depth over question marks, question marks, question marks, and I see question marks on an Islanders blueline that has had to use at least 12 pros each of the last three seasons. A free agent upgrade would be nice, but not definitely attainable and of course creates the same logjam. Martinek tends to be able to fill in wherever you need him.

But there is an argument to be made to have Hamonic and MacDonald carry the workload along with Streit (and whoever the fourth guy in that mix is) while easing the more offensively inclined Wishart into advantageous situations. Hamonic and Wishart looked good at the end (small sample size alert!), so you could also create two nice pairings with Hamonic-Wishart and Streit-MacDonald. Again, all of these pro contracts (notice I haven't mentioned Hillen, Eaton or Mottau in this paragraph) means there are a lot of pro bodies to mix and match -- all of them with different talent and health concerns.

To me it's no guarantee at all that Mottau comes back in NHL form, and Eaton (and MacDonald) are coming off hip surgery, too, which means overbuying insurance isn't crazy. But it also means that unless the Isles want to hedge all that health risk and/or are prepared to do a buyout or waive the losers of training camp competition, there might not be room for Martinek's return.

The Poem

If this is the end, dear Marti
Please still be our friend, dear Marti
We've been through so much, and hardly
Can stomach goodbye.

Through thick and thin, our Marti
Was here to help win, our Marti
Wounded joints and hand, not hardy
But rehabbed every time.

Quiet and friendly, that Marti
Stuck up for his friends, ol' Marti
Not quite the life of, the party
But true Isle till the end.

The Grade

That was all focused on the question of re-signing Martinek, but this post is ostensibly about his report card for 2010-11. So as usual, issue your grade based on how well he met preseason expectations. Maybe that's heavily focused on health, maybe it's on offense, maybe it's pure loyalty and nostalgia, or maybe it's based on some of the data above. The fun of this process, for me, is in encouraging and accepting all kinds of perspectives and opinions on a player. I'm not here to tell you what measures to use (although I'll happily debate the merits of each). Go with what you expect and like out of a player like Martinek.