Entering contract year, Alec Martinez focusing on unusual season

One of two pending UFAs on the Golden Knights’ roster, the top-4 defenseman is in the final year of his deal.

Under normal circumstances, a player entering a contract year wouldn’t think twice of it. The consistent response is to let the business side of things play out the way they do.

That’s exactly what Alec Martinez said when asked about his contract situation heading into the 2021 season, but these aren’t normal circumstances.

“I’m obviously aware I have a year left, but I think if you get caught up too much thinking about that kind of thing, it’ll get the best of you,” Martinez said. “I’m focused on having a good year.”

If this were an 82-game season, maybe it wouldn’t be at the forefront. Sure, players have tested free agency before, but it’s an interesting situation when Martinez is one of only two unrestricted free agents (Tomas Nosek) the Golden Knights will have hit the open market at the conclusion of this unusual 56-game NHL season.

Martinez is entering the final year of a six-year, $24 million contract he signed with the Los Angeles Kings in December 2014; less than six months after scoring the double-overtime, Cup-clinching goal in Game 5 of the Final against the New York Rangers. The 33-year-old Martinez scored 92 points in 216 games over the next three seasons, proving to be a vital component to the Kings remaining competitive.

Injuries piled up and the scoring went down, as did the Kings’ place in the Pacific Division hierarchy. After scoring eight points in 41 games for the Kings in last season season, Vegas sent two second-round picks (2020 and 2021) to its Interstate-15 rival to add a proven winner and veteran presence on the Knights’ top four.

Martinez found new life in with Vegas, scoring eight points in 10 games before the season’s pause due to COVID-19 in March. The investment was even more worthwhile in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Martinez (plus-11) and defense partner Shea Theodore (plus-7) were the best duo Vegas had on its blueline in the return to play.

By basis of the first two days of training camp, Martinez and Theodore are to be paired again this season.

“We played together long enough that we’ve developed that chemistry,” Martinez said. “Any time you come back from an offseason it takes time to get your game back in order. We’ve had a couple first days. ... If you can’t play with Shea Theodore, it’s probably on you.”

Unless the Golden Knights sign him before the end of the season, this will be the first time Martinez enters unrestricted free agency in his NHL career — his six-year deal came after the first season of a two-year deal he signed in 2013. If the Golden Knights wish to keep Martinez, they’ll have a projected $5.625 million in cap space this summer to work with, according to CapFriendly.

His $4 million cap hit is one of the reasons Martinez has been linked to trade rumors this offseason as the Golden Knights continue to reach cap compliancy.

The Knights could be in a position to move Martinez if their young defensemen continue to progress as expected. Zach Whitecloud is one that could contend for a promotion to the top four should his development ascend from last season. Nicolas Hague has skated with Whitecloud during scrimmages as a likely third pair competing with Nick Holden. Pete DeBoer said Monday he thinks there is competition to be had on defense and Hague “is an NHL defenseman.” Dylan Coghlan is another name to watch, with DeBoer saying he’s “knocking on the door.”

The trade deadline is April 12, if you’re keeping track at home.

But the Golden Knights seem content on their top four now of Martinez, Theodore, Brayden McNabb and Alex Pietrangelo. Martinez is bound to play this out how he sees fit, but it’s going to be an unusual process getting there.

“I think if the team’s successful, individuals are successful,” he said. “The business side will take care of itself. I haven’t put a lot of thought into it.”