How is Alec Martinez Handling His Top 4 Role?
Thanks to his stellar third-pairing play and overtime heroics in the playoffs, Alec Martinez hit a payday with a six year, 24 million dollar contract. Are the Kings getting their money's worth?
Let's just start off by saving I love Alec Martinez. You probably do too. You know, the guy Jarret Stoll catches watching two screens at once on a train ride, one of which is a Bruce Springsteen concert. Still unfamiliar? I advise you to watch Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final again. With me now? Ok, good. Now put aside those feelings.
Alec Martinez, as many of us think of him, found success on Los Angeles' third pairing with great possession numbers. Not only that, but he scored the winning goal in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014. He also went on to clinch the 2014 Stanley Cup for the Kings with a goal in double overtime of game 5 against the New York Rangers. If there's to be any discussion about intangibles or "clutch" factors, they're probably going to be in his favor.
In spite of his playoff heroics, the Kings have established their reputation as a defense-first team by controlling possession and limiting scoring chances. Last season, Martinez found himself in an elevated role on the Kings when he was asked to play top four minutes alongside possession anchor Robyn Regehr. As you might have guessed, the didn't go so well for him, and we covered it in our season review of him this summer. Alec struggled to generate shots and to limit scoring chances.
This season, things are much different. With Robyn Regehr retired and Matt Greene injured, LA's defense is the youngest and mobile-est it's been since the Kings became a contender. What's more, Alec Martinez has spent much of this season paired with Jewels-favorite Jake Muzzin. Have his numbers rebounded as a result of the change in circumstances? Check the table below to find out!
Kings Defensemen Possession and Scoring Chances
In the table above are the top six Kings defensemen by ice time. The tables shows Corsi for and against rates per 60, as well as Corsi for percentage relative to the team. It has the same stats for scoring chances and high danger scoring chances (as defined by war-on-ice).
As you can see in the table, the numbers aren't so great for Alec. While the team generates shot attempts just fine while he is on the ice, the Kings are at their worst in limiting them with him on. This gives him a negative percentage compared to his teammates, and it's not by a small margin. We see a similar trend in looking at scoring chances. He does just fine at generating them, but is poor at limiting them. Again, he's a team worst.
The last batch of stats I chose to show is high-danger scoring chances. These are the chances that are happening in the slot or right around the crease. The Kings aren't known for excelling at these types of chances due to their play style, and it shows with the fact that no one player really sets himself apart in the relative percentages. That is, except for Jamie McBain, who is apparently excelling at limiting them in his third pairing role. We'll have to keep an eye on that, because it's definitely not what we'd expect out of a free agent that wasn't exactly having his door knocked down with contract offers last summer.
The takeaway from these numbers seems to echo the trends we saw in our season review. Jake Muzzin has traditionally been top on the Kings in Corsi and scoring chance metrics, yet Alec Martinez's pairing with him doesn't seem to have changed his trajectory. In fact, Muzzin's numbers kind of just look average. Maybe their WOW charts will give a little more insight.
From Martinez's chart, we can see that Muzzin's performance with or without Martinez does not change much at all. However, when Martinez is without Muzzin (denoted by the outlying blue 6 box), he becomes much worse at generating and suppressing shot attempts. What's more, everyone on the team seems to be doing better at suppressing shots without Martinez, which jives with the poor shot attempt rates we already noticed.
By comparison, here is Jake Muzzin. First we see that Martinez without Muzzin is a gigantic difference. Next, there is a much less clear cut trend of players suppressing more shots away from Muzzin. Muzzin's average is much more comfortably to the right and above the 50% line. Despite Muzzin's mediocre numbers, it's pretty clear who is limiting the other in driving play.
So, much of the story seems to be the same as we left it at the end of last season. We had hoped a new (and better) defensive partner would turn the tide for Alec, but that hasn't happened thus far. Even so, Alec is second among the team's defensemen in goal differential and tied for the lead in goals with four. His underlying stats may not be great, but he continues to 'show' above them, perhaps most recently exemplified by his overtime winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
Going forward, there definitely feels like there should be a little apprehension regarding the future prospects of his contract, which may have been a playoff performance reward in some aspects. To put it simply, he's signed for one more year than Jake Muzzin at the same dollar amount, yet Jake Muzzin is two years younger and continues to post superior stats. Martinez will be 33 years old when his contract expires, and he could very well be in severe decline by then. He simply hasn't risen to the challenge of top four minutes at this point.
Of course, we can remain hopeful about one of the fan favorites who has proven offensive upside, but maybe we should also secretly wonder how much other GMs value his playoff performance, should LA need to shake up their defense for better performance or to simply fit under the salary cap. That's not to say any of this is a signal flare. Los Angeles is playing fantastic hockey right now, and have a strong argument for being the top team in the league. That doesn't mean Alec couldn't stand to pick up the slack a little, though.
Thanks to war-on-ice.com for included stats and hockeyviz.com for WOWY charts.