Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin has been named an Olympian before (twice in fact) but has never skated for the United States Hockey team. In 2006, while with the New Jersey Devils, Martin traveled with the team to Turin, Italy as a member of the taxi squad and didn't spend a second on the ice. For the 2010 Vancouver Games, his Olympic dreamed were dashed again. Twenty-two games into the NHL regular season, Martin blocked a slapshot from Pittsburgh Penguins forward Bill Guerin and broke his arm. He entertained hopes of coming back in time for the Games, but a unexpected December surgery nixed that.
Martin was gracious then, saying, "While the decision was an extremely difficult one, I feel it is in my long-term best interest to not rush any return to the ice. I look forward to rejoining my New Jersey Devil teammates in the near future, and would also like to wish my fellow Devils' Olympians and the rest of Team USA good luck in their pursuit of the gold medal."
Now he's a tad bitter. "As far as disappointment and frustration as an athlete goes, that I think has been my toughest thing to get over in my career."
And why shouldn't he be? This is the Olympics, consarnit! Twice Martin's been slated as good enough to represent his country and twice he's had that opportunity whisked away. As far as honors go, playing on your nation's Olympic squad is pretty high up there. Right there with a girlfriend earning remote control privileges (sarcasm, but you get the point). Karma is a powerful thing and he/she/it owes Paul Martin big.
But manifest destiny and fairness aren't the main reasons why Paul Martin should be named to Team USA Hockey. His production and consistent play are. During the playoffs, Martin was arguably the best defenseman wearing a Penguins jersey. That was lock-in-step with his resurrecting 2013 regular season. In thirty-four games, Martin finally looked like the player the Penguins spent $25 million dollars for. He had six goals and seventeen points to go with a wonderfully low fourteen penalty minutes. He shared powerplay point duties with Kris Letang and killed penalties like Hulk smashes . . . everything. Summed up, Paul Martin rediscovered himself and the Penguins benefited.
There's also not many other quality options for the U.S. at defense. You have your automatics in Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh, and Zach Bogosian. Then what? Dustin Byfuglien's too, um . . . heavy to play on the bigger international surface. Jack Johnson and Brooks Orpik are solid defenders, but one's old and slow, while the other's just slow. Erik Johnson's been overrated for entirely too long. Seth Jones and Nick Leddy are too young and will have to wait for the 2018 Games. So a steady, producing, and balanced defenseman like Paul Martin is a safe pick.
Martin knows that his time to play in Olympics is shrinking. "I think as I get older, I definitely appreciate every opportunity I get, especially to play for my country. So I think this opportunity, I have a lot more appreciation for and hopefully I’ll be able to play a game.”
From your mouth to Coach Bylsma's ears, Paul.
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