Starkey: It's time for Martin, Michalek
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Of all the trades the Penguins could make by Monday's deadline, here is one that makes eminent sense and wouldn't cost the club a single asset:
Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek in exchange for ... their former selves.
Aside from Sidney Crosby's return, there is no more critical issue facing the Penguins over their final 22 games.
The team's two highest-paid defensemen — recently split up as a pair — can't be putting up minuses faster than Phil Mickelson. That has to change. Maybe it has begun to change, based on their performance Tuesday against the New York Rangers.
If this team wants to be playing hockey instead of golf in June, the M&M boys must recapture the form they showed for much of last season.
Forget about trading Martin or Michalek, unless general manager Ray Shero takes my advice and offers Martin to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Malone (that would be one good-but-overpaid player with three more years on his deal for another, but the Lightning would have to comply, and Shero, to his everlasting credit, doesn't take my advice).
Martin has three years and $15 million left on his contract. He is a team-worst minus-11. Michalek has three years and $12 million. He is minus-10. Plus-minus is hardly the be-all, end-all in appraising performance, but in this case it's pretty darn accurate.
Like it or not, these guys probably are sticking around. The best outcome, therefore, is for them to find their games. They need to string together a bunch like the one Tuesday in a 2-0 win. Both did what they do best in what might have been the Penguins' finest all-around performance of the season.
Michalek was breaking up plays left and right and making life difficult for New York's forwards. He led the team with three blocked shots.
Martin, playing with Kris Letang because of Brooks Orpik's absence, deftly moved the puck and was all over the ice. He logged 26-plus minutes.
Afterward, Martin acknowledged his rough season.
"Definitely, it's been a long year," he said.
He was asked what it means to be at his best.
"I'm at my best when I'm just playin' and skating and not getting too worried about what people are saying," Martin said.
His main issue?
"It's just something (where) maybe I'm thinking too much," he said. "If I had the answer, I think it'd be a lot easier. But I'm just trying to find it."
A lower-body injury slowed Martin earlier this season. His confidence clearly has waned at times.
It's been a case of a good player having a tough year — and a contract that makes for unrealistic expectations. The $5 million tag comes up so often you'd think that it and not '7' was the number on the back of Martin's jersey.
The good news is that more than a quarter of the season remains. Plenty of time to round into playoff form.
As Martin put it, "What's important for me, personally, is to find a way to get through it and be playing good come playoff time."
Nobody has to tell either man why their partnership was broken up 12 days ago after the Penguins spotted Tampa Bay two early goals.
"It wasn't going well," Michalek said. "We all knew it. We both felt there is better in us. (The coaches) made a decision to try to get us going.
"It's a long season, so nobody says we won't be back together soon. We know we have to play better."
Michalek's off year is easier to explain. He has missed 21 games on account of a broken finger and a concussion. When he's on, he is positionally sound and blocking a ton of shots.
When he's not, he is flailing aimlessly from his knees (the only thing that begins with a Z and slides on the ice more often is a Zamboni).
It took these two awhile to get going last season. After things came together, they formed an excellent No. 2 pairing behind Orpik and Letang. There is no reason that shouldn't happen again.
It better, if the Penguins want to be playing hockey in June.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Dupuis’ absence will alter roles on penalty kill
- Fleury denied 300th win as Penguins lose to Islanders in shootout
- New assistant Agnew has Pens’ PK, defense among league’s best
- Starkey: Pens move on with, without Dupuis
- Penguins notebook: Fleury awaits word on when he’ll vie for 300th victory
- Rossi: For Penguins’ Dupuis, family must come first
- Penguins notebook: Defenseman Maatta likely to return soon
- Replacing versatile Dupuis could prove difficult for Penguins
- Therrien, Gonchar not missing a beat after reuniting in Montreal
- Penguins’ Dupuis diagnosed with blood clot in lung
- Penguins defenseman Maatta makes his return in win over Canadiens