By Mark Madden
Beaver County Times
February 21, 2012
Paul Martin #7 of the Pittsburgh Penguins passes the puck during the NHL game against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center on January 6, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Rangers defeated the Penguins 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
As Monday's NHL trade deadline approaches, the less-informed Pittsburgh hockey marks dream thusly: Let's trade all our bad players for all their good players.
To wit, one popular proposal suggests the Penguins send defenseman Paul Martin and goaltender Brent Johnson to Chicago for winger Patrick Sharp.
Great idea. A minus-11 defenseman and a backup goaltender that got knocked out of the box in four of his last six starts seems fair compensation for Sharp's 24 goals and 27 assists in 52 games. Who needs a sharpshooting winger, anyway?
Well, besides everybody.
Anyway, Martin isn't going anywhere. Not yet.
Martin's lackluster play makes his $5 million yearly salary (payable through 2015) difficult to unload. General Manager Ray Shero might attempt to trade Martin in the off-season.
A team lacking defensively with decent cap space (Minnesota?) might see Martin as a workhorse that would thrive on responsibility and minutes in a low-pressure situation, like Brian Campbell in Florida. Martin has a limited movement clause, but Pittsburgh has not been a good experience. He'd likely go.
But right now, the Penguins need Martin.
Martin has struggled mightily at times - witness minus-4 at Buffalo Sunday - but he's still a better option than anyone who could replace him from within the organization.
Defenseman Simon Despres was the Penguins' first-round pick in 2009. He's in his first professional season, and has played 14 games with the Penguins. He's plus-4. At the NHL level, Despres has played better than Martin this season. Few would dispute. The 6-foot-4 Despres has size, mobility and defensive acumen.
What he lacks is experience. Who would you rather have on the ice when Game 7 at Philadelphia goes to overtime, Despres or Martin? The answer, despite all his struggles, is Martin.
Martin can still be a big contributor. He's just lacks confidence. Martin has to play well to regain that. It's all on him.
The Penguins are more than adequate on defense. They have eight NHL-caliber defensemen, plus a few more that can get by. Acquiring Hal Gill would have been a luxury. Anyway, the Penguins wouldn't have outbid Nashville, which overpaid for Gill.
Some panic over the poor play of Johnson. The "experts" suggest picking up Ty Conklin, a stalwart in the Penguins net when Marc-Andre Fleury got hurt in 2007-08.
But Conklin was waived by Detroit for a reason. His current stats are worse than Johnson's. Four years can be a long time.
Johnson's travails only matter because they prevent Fleury from resting more. If Fleury gets hurt in the playoffs, it won't matter who the backup is. The Penguins would be hard-pressed to beat anybody.
So, stick with Johnson. He's come through before, and more recently than 2007-08.
Maybe we overrate the Penguins. They have precious little scoring depth, two of their top four defensemen (Martin and Zbynek Michalek) are underachieving, and Sidney Crosby has played just eight games since Jan. 5, 2011.
The Penguins are 12-11 in their past 23. That defines treading water.
But with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal anchoring the center, a superb defense tandem in Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik, winger James Neal having a breakout year, good special teams and Fleury always a threat to string wins together, the season still holds promise.
Two players Shero could consider acquiring are Buffalo center Paul Gaustad and Carolina defenseman Bryan Allen.
Gaustad, 6-foot-5, is a prototype checking center who kept Malkin relatively quiet Sunday. Allen, also 6-5, blocks shots and stays at home. Each will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. Each packs a manageable cap hit.
Eric Tangradi plus a draft pick, anyone?
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).