U.S., Penguins defenseman Martin out indefinitely with hand injury
By Rob Rossi and Chris Adamski
Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 8:12 a.m.
Paul Martin's long-awaited first Olympics ended with the most painful of disappointments.
He should at least get a chance to chase his long-sought Stanley Cup, though.
Martin, a defenseman for Team USA and the Penguins, is out indefinitely with an injured right hand, multiple sources told the Tribune-Review on Friday.
The Penguins believe Martin will miss about a month, but they will not know a full diagnosis or time frame for recovery until Martin is evaluated by team physicians in Pittsburgh next week, the sources said.
Martin's hand, which has been casted, was injured in the United States' win over the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the sources said. He did not play Friday in the Americans' 1-0 loss to Canada in an Olympic semifinal game in Sochi, Russia.
Martin missed the 2010 Winter Olympics because of a broken forearm. He was a member of, but did not play for, Team USA at the 2006 Winter Games.
Martin, 32, had looked forward to what he believed was his last shot to represent his country at the Games.
A Minneapolis native, he grew up in the shadow of USA Hockey Olympic legend Herb Brooks, who coached the Americans to their last gold in 1980. Martin starred collegiately in the early 2000s at the University of Minnesota, where Brooks won three national titles in the 1970s.
“If he could have played, he would have played. He did everything he could,” said Team USA and fellow Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, Martin's Olympics roommate. “I saw firsthand how much he was enjoying it.”
Martin was not available for comment.
He has played through injuries during his four seasons with the Penguins, including with a concussion during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs and on a broken tibia in a game at Boston in late-November.
Martin also has paired with Orpik to form coach Dan Bylsma's top defensive duo the past two seasons. Bylsma, Team USA's coach, used the players together often during the Sochi Games.
Though the sources said the Penguins expect Martin to be ready for the Stanley Cup playoffs barring setbacks, his loss is another blow to a team with the best point total in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
The Penguins do not anticipate top defenseman Kris Letang (stroke) will play again this season. Letang is at least four weeks from being re-evaluated for a heart condition, and he is on blood-thinner medication.
Letang and Martin are the only defensemen to average at least 24 minutes of ice time, and they have split time on the point on the top power-play unit.
The Penguins, who play Montreal at Consol Energy Center on Thursday, have played only seven games with each of their top-four defensemen — Letang, Martin, Orpik and Rob Scuderi — in the lineup.
Non-Olympic players practiced again Friday at Southpointe, and veteran Matt Niskanen expressed disbelief upon learning of Martin's injury.
“It never ends, does it?” Niskanen said.
Assistant coach Todd Reirden, who runs the Penguins defense, said the club's experience at playing a bulk of this season short-handed will ease the blow of extended time again without Letang and Martin.
With those defensemen out, the Penguins have only six healthy players at the position — including Deryk Engelland, who had been playing as a fourth-line winger.
“I know (Bylsma) alluded earlier to us having Deryk has allowed us to have success,” Reirden said, referring to Engelland's versatility.
AHL prospects such as Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson have played for the Penguins this season. Despres, a 2009 first-round pick, has led the way with 18 games.
The Penguins, who have sought to find a first-line replacement for injured right winger Pascal Dupuis, had viewed Despres as a possible bargaining chip. Bottom-six forward scoring depth also was viewed as an area of need by general manager Ray Shero, who is with Team USA in Sochi.
However, Shero may prioritize adding a veteran defenseman before the NHL trade deadline (3 p.m. March 5) because of voids created by the loss of Letang and Martin.
The Penguins' salary-cap situation is complicated by long-term injuries to various regulars, including Letang and Martin. Dupuis (torn ACL) had surgery Feb. 12 but has not been ruled out for the season. He and backup goalie Tomas Vokoun, who is practicing after missing several months with a blood clot, are on the long-term injury list.
Players on that list do not count against the $64.3 million salary cap.
The Penguins are under the cap — club policy is not to disclose by how much — but most of their room is because of players having the long-term injury designation. Letang had not been placed on the long-term injury list as of Friday.
Engelland said the defensive prospects — not to mention Robert Bortuzzo, who has played in only 35 games — are stout enough help the club sustain a high level of performance.
“It's time for them to show they can play those minutes and those situations,” Engelland said.
“We're good depth-wise, but obviously you don't want to miss guys like ‘Tanger' and ‘Paulie.' ”
Staff writer Dejan Kovacevic contributed. Rob Rossi and Chris Adamski are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Rossi at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib and Adamski at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
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