Penguins Hire Jacques Martin

Is the hiring of Jacques Martin a move to simply improve Pittsburgh’s greatest asset?

When the Penguins hired Jacques Martin as an assistant coach it raised plenty of questions. What is a defensively minded, systematic coach’s role on a team that is considered all offense? Well, there are a few ideas.

The first idea is that Martin’s defensive game planning could balance out an overbearing offensive game.

While the Penguins are a perennial powerhouse offensively, it is their defense that tends to break down in clutch situations. Despite finishing in the better half of the goals against statistic this past season the Penguins became dreadfully undisciplined in the playoffs, inevitably leading to their dismal performance against the Bruins in the Conference Finals.

Martin is a veteran coach and like most veterans, they are set in their ways. Martin should challenge Coach Dan Bylsma and his system on a daily basis. Martin’s defensive minded coaching style can be confusing though. It is not as simple as New Jersey’s trap, using all players on the ice to slow down play. Instead, Martin preaches awareness among defensemen when away from the puck and keeping them in position to add into the offense, but never abandon their main role.

During his time in the NHL, Martin has been a strong advocate of two way defensemen. Breaking down the game of pure offensive defensemen and turning them into solid two way blue liners is a trade mark of sorts. Martin should spend time working with current defense coach Todd Reirden on training a more systematically responsible core. Working one on one with defenders, specifically with their play away from the puck, will most likely be his main role. Young defenders do not always take to his style, but with a multitude of coaching styles around the locker room, his old school approach will not suffocate the youth in terms of grasping the system.

With all of that said it is Pittsburgh’s greatest asset that Martin will be able to help grow; that of course being the young and well stocked defensive core that remains in Pittsburgh.

Starting with a guy like Kris Letang, a well accomplished offensive defenseman, Martin can help him identify breaks in his game. The biggest being his play away from the puck.

Teaching Letang defensive responsibility when not carrying the puck has proven to be difficult, but a new more stern face could pay dividends.

With many other young defensemen ready to make the big club, Martin will have his hands full. Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo are both NHL ready, but still have plenty of room to grow. With both players being large bodied, smooth skating defensemen Martin could drastically improve their game. In fact, Bortuzzo has the looks of a young Chris Phillips who Martin shaped early in his career when with Ottawa. Despres has more offensive upside, but struggles with inconsistent play defensively. Martin should spend plenty of time working one on one with these young defenders in camp.

Other notables that Martin will spend time with include first round draft picks from 2012 Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, as well as Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington. These young defensemen help make up what is one of the strongest prospect cores in league and are Pittsburgh’s strongest asset to date, despite the obvious top stars.

Martin was brought in to help aid in a few different situations, such as game planning and systematic adjustments, but his most important role should be aiding in the development of these young defenders.