Editor’s note: This story was written in full Wednesday prior to Martinez making his Golden Knights debut with some additions to reflect stats and happenings of Thursday’s game.
The Vegas Golden Knights completed a trade for defenseman Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, giving up two second round picks, one each in 2020 and 2021. Martinez, 32, has a year remaining on his $4 million AAV contract after this season, which means this is not a strict deadline deal.
And holy hell, this is already looking like a good deal. Martinez had a goal and an assist in Vegas’ 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
But that was one game. A hell of a game, but one game. What can Martinez bring to Vegas for this final stretch of games?
Martinez likely completes the Golden Knights’ top four, a spot they’ve been looking to shore up since the departure of Colin Miller in the offseason. Martinez isn’t the same player as Miller, however, with now two goals and eight assists so far this season and 4-14—18 in 60 games last season, he’s fallen off his peak of 9-30—39 in 2016-17.
He’s also someone who comes in with valuable playoff experience, having won two Stanley Cups with the Kings, including 10 points in the Kings’ 2014 Stanley Cup run, including the two most important games in those playoffs, Game 7 overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final and the double overtime goal against the New York Rangers to win the Cup. You’ve heard this before adnauseum, but one more time for the people in the back.
This season will be six years removed from that run, however, and Martinez is likely not the same player. But that doesn’t mean he’s bad. He’s played the second-most time as the Los Angeles Kings’ power-play quarterback, scoring the most goals per 60 as Drew Doughty, and not allowing a shorthanded goal against.
Martinez has 50.59 percent shot share and 49.14 percent expected goal share at even strength, above his 48.26 percent offensive zone start percentage. His 19.51 IPP, or the percentage of goals while on the ice he factored into is higher than both Jon Merrill and Brayden McNabb’s. He’s drawn the same number of penalties as Shea Theodore, Nicolas Hague, and Deryk Engelland, taking fewer penalties than all of them.
However, his 31 giveaways would be third on the team behind Theodore and Nate Schmidt, and he has much fewer takeaways than both. His 3.8 goals above replacement with Los Angeles would be fourth on the Golden Knights’ blue line, behind Theodore, Hague and Nick Holden.
Martinez has been used in an incredibly defensive-focused role this season for the Kings, and his two main partners, Doughty and Sean Walker, have seen spikes in offensive zone starts without Martinez. That has led to better possessions stats without him for Doughty, but Walker has been largely better with the addition of Martinez.
Walker plays a very similar game to, you guessed it, Theodore:
Although Theodore is a much better version of Walker. Walker has just five goals and 16 assists for 21 points this season, his second year in the NHL as a 25-year-old defenseman. Theodore could use a partner like Martinez, who can help him in his own end and form an ideal shutdown unit, one that can move the puck back out of the zone and back onto the attack with speed.
Martinez’s skill and history in the playoffs is also something somebody like Theodore can learn from, as Theodore has seen exponential growth in the postseason so far in his Vegas career, but a mentor like Martinez who’s been there and done that could help him even further.
Not that Theodore needs the help, as he leads the Golden Knights by a wide margin with 9.3 expected goals above replacement and that is good for 12th among defensemen this season, ahead of John Carlson and Quinn Hughes.
But somebody needs to play with Shea, somebody who should, ideally, be able to help him and allow Theodore the chance to play up to his potential role as a number one defenseman. Martinez may be the closest the Golden Knights have come to that player.
Two second round picks could lead to players who can help the Golden Knights down the road, but with five in the next two drafts before the trade, they had picks to spare. If the belief is that Vegas has a chance at not just contention, but being a legitimate Stanley Cup threat this season, and with the way everything but goaltending has performed this season, that belief should exist, getting a player like Martinez was necessary.
Now, it’s time to see whether that move pays off. For one game, so far so good.