2016-17 in Review: Which King is the ideal Bunk to Alec Martinez’s McNulty?
Taking a look at Alec Martinez’s season... based on defense partner.
For the next month or two, we’ll be taking a look at the players who made the Los Angeles Kings’ 2016-17 season what it was: a crushing disappointment that got people fired an up-and-down journey which managed to be both unusual and familiar. Rather than the good-bad-future-grade format we’ve used in past seasons, we’ll ask a crucial question and answer it using it what we saw this year.
Fair warning: many spoilers from The Wire fill this post. I apologize if you haven’t seen it and a fifteen year old TV show was spoiled for you.
Based on last season, who is Alec Martinez’s ideal defense partner?
2016-17 in Review: Alec Martinez
2016-17 in Review: Alec Martinez Statistics
In some ways, Alec Martinez had a pretty typical year last season, if not a pretty good year. He set a career high in points, while contributing 9 goals, and playing significant special teams minutes. However, that Goals For % is truly awful, ranking 168th among 197 NHL defensemen with at least 500 minutes at 5v5. But things weren’t always this way! To figure out what happened (beyond bad goaltending/crappy PDO), let’s dig into Marty’s various defense partners.
Before getting too deep into this past season, let’s look back even further. Prior to this season, Martinez had played at least 200 minutes with seven different defense partners: Matt Greene, Jake Muzzin, Willie Mitchell, Robyn Regehr, Drew Doughty, and Slava Voynov.
Aside from Slava Voynov (who had the fewest minutes with Martinez), the best two defense pairs where Martinez-Greene, and Martinez-Mitchell. What do both of them have in common? They are both large, stay-at-home types, who mostly allowed Martinez the freedom and ability to do stuff with the puck, or jump up in the play, and feel safe knowing he would be covered. So let’s look at how 2016-17 season looked for Martinez with each partner that logged at least 50 minutes with him.
So here we have last season. There are really only three guys who played enough minutes for anything to be anywhere close to meaningful, so we will look at those guys one by one, and cover the other five partners all in one shot.
Martinez with Muzzin
After a successful 2015-16 together, M&M looked like they could be a really great partnership moving forward. But! Was that fool’s gold? Back to The Wire reference in the original question that I have ignored up until now: Muzzin and Martinez are like Jimmy McNulty and Lester Freamon. They are both natural police, with fantastic instincts, incredibly smart, and willing to do whatever it takes. That seems like a thing that would work real great, except it actually doesn’t. Similarly, Muzzin and Martinez are both guys who you want with the puck, want putting rubber on net, and taking some chances to push play forward. The WOWY doesn’t lie. Martinez has nearly across the board been better in nearly every way with a stay at home defenseman. Put him with a calm, measured player, and allow Martinez to safely jump up in the play and do stuff like this. This is what the Bunk was to McNulty. He was the calm, measured presence, the one to get Jimmy’s back when he needed it. Back to Muzzin and Martinez as McNulty and Freamon. Remember in the final season, when McNulty and Freamon fake a serial killer to free up enough funds to go after Marlo Stanfield? If you paired McNulty with Willie Mitchell that season, do you really think that would have happened? Willie wouldn’t have been cool with that.
Martinez with McNabb
Ah now this is more like it. A nice, sound stay-at-home type that allows Martinez to do the things. McNabb isn’t quite prime Greene or Mitchell though. McNabb seems more like Detective Sydnor. He’s natural police, just like Bunk, but he just isn’t quite on the level of the Bunk. Bunk had the gravitas to demand the respect of McNulty, just as Greene and Mitchell with the younger Martinez. McNabb isn’t quite there yet, and considering the lackluster season McNabb had overall, and the chance he is lost in expansion, we might never get to see what McNabb and Martinez could be with some more time together. Kind of like how Sydnor gets sent back to the Auto Theft Department at the end of season one, and doesn’t show up again until season three. Wait, Sydnor becomes future McNulty by the end of the series. Hmmmmm, my analogy is falling apart in front of me. I wanted it to be one way, but I guess it’s the other way.
Martinez with Forbort
Martinez’s WOWY with Forbort (and... errrr... without him too) is pretty interesting. It’s pretty close to the same with or without him, and also similar to McNabb as well. Which makes sense! Forbort is much more in the McNabb (and Greene and Mitchell) mold. Unfortunately, I am running out of apt The Wire partner analogies. Oh I got one! Forbort is like Detective Pryzbylewski! A young, impressionable detective who is not good at some parts of the job. However, you put him in the right role, and ask him to do what he does best and he can excel. For Forbort, that means pairing him with a guy who can carry the puck-handling and moving responsibilities, allowing him to focus on sound positional defense. That is the ideal role for Forbort, and something he can excel at. It’s also perfect for Martinez as well. Just don’t let Forbort go pick up dinner (NSFW).
Martinez with Gravel, Greene, Doughty, Gilbert, and LaDue
These guys all didn’t play enough Martinez to say too much, but to get an idea of things, you just need to checkout WY part of the WOWY chart above. Specifically looking at Muzzin, Martinez was actually above 50% in Goals For % away from Muzzin, his primary partner. Yet Martinez was also below 50% with his next two most common partners, McNabb and Forbort. Sooooo huh? Well it comes down to just how ridiculously good Martinez was in his limited minutes with Gravel and Greene (and also pretty good with Doughty, Gilbert, and LaDue in even fewer minutes). Hey that Greene name sounds familiar! He was one of Martinez’s prior Bunk-like perfect partners from seasons past. Kevin Gravel is another guy who also fits the Greene/Mitchell mold. I think we have just found even further evidence of the stay-at-home guy is the ideal partner for Martinez,
So what does this all mean for Alec Martinez in 2016-17, and moving forward? Well there is a clear usage issue. Both Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin were worse together this year than apart. While the puck possession was solid, it is hard to ignore the dreadful GF%. A dreadful PDO obviously has a lot to do with it, but PDO isn’t everything, and it isn’t always just “luck”. Sometimes you get the results you deserve, sometimes they are worse than your play dictates they should, sometimes they are better. The final result shouldn’t always be the focus, but instead we should focus on the process that got us there (also NSFW). So what does that mean in this situation? It means pairing up Alec Martinez with the right kind of defense partner. Fortunately for the Kings, they have a few good options available. Depending the expansion draft, any of Brayden McNabb, Derek Forbort, or Kevin Gravel would be the kind of dependable Bunk-like partner for Marty’s McNulty. While none of them have the veteran presence of Greene or Mitchell, maybe with some more consistent time together Martinez can develop that perfect rapport with one of those youths (extremely NSFW).