“Paul Martin thinks Jerry Sandusky is a great human being #PaulMartinSmearCampaign”
“Paul Martin supports cancer. #PaulMartinSmearCampaign”
“Paul Martin thinks that you’re supposed to pass it to the other team. #PaulMartinSmearCampaign”
“#PaulMartinSmearCampaign was just trending for me. And people say flyers fans are too harsh on their players, this never happened in philly”
When Philadelphia is calling you goony, you know you’ve got a problem.
I really have felt like Susan Powter many times when reading and hearing much of the conversation surrounding Paul Martin this past season. Instead of trying to remind people that diets don’t work, though, I’m trying (despite it being a gross exercise in futility) to remind people that he isn’t the worst defenseman in the world or even on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not even close to it, actually.
While anyone who’s spoken with me can attest to the fact that this has been a season-long struggle of mine, and while I’ve touched on this in some of my previous entries, I never felt the need to dedicate an entire post to Paul Martin and his perceived suckiness, for lack of a better word. The newly hatched #smearPaulMartin campaign that popped up on Twitter this past week was the final straw that broke this bitch’s back, and it’s time for some real talk about the unwarranted and disproportionate amount of hate being heaped on #7’s shoulders. To borrow from my muse, Lady, in her song “Garbage Ass”: the way you hatin’ I would think you gettin’ a check to do it/you’re dedicated, you’re loyal, I mean you’re so into it.
I’m here to tell you what’s really hood, and what’s really hood is that the PaulMart hate is pretty out of line and that, at least in part, its magnitude can be linked to our ideas about masculinity and how they translate to play on the ice.
The hate he gets certainly isn’t justified if we’re looking at numbers and statistics. For the uninformed (and that would be an embarrassingly -large portion of the Pittsburgh Penguins fan base, it would seem), those are the pesky bits of information that can be tested and verified and confirmed and stand up to repeated analysis. Because there are some wonderful people out there on the internets, I don’t have to present them; you can read these posts to see why, from a statistical standpoint, it’s pretty obvious that Paul Martin is the Penguins #2 defenseman behind Kris Letang (and for good reason).
Please note that I am not saying he has been perfect, nor am I suggesting that his play during the beginning of this past season was up to par. Martin has also acknowledged shortcomings in his game this past year. What I am, however, attempting to do with these links is once and for all dispel the notion that he’s even close to as bad as a lot of people believe and want you to believe.
Even the folks behind Pensblog, not exactly the most Martin-friendly guys out there, engaged in a statistical analysis that showed that, hey, maybe he isn’t making anywhere near the amount of mistakes that are attributed to him. (Note: I do, however, think that a direct comparison to Sergei Gonchar is flawed in and of itself since they aren’t even the same type of defenseman. “Puck-moving defenseman” isn’t the same as “offensive defenseman,” and I think a Letang/Gonchar comparison is far more useful and relevant, especially in terms of their roles on the roster. I realize that letting Gonchar go and bringing in Martin/Michalek lends itself to a head-to-head comparison, but I think that’s because it’s easy and lazy above all else.)
Oh, and for the people who are playing the he-makes-$5 million-so-he-should-be-X-Y-Z: take his contract up with Ray Shero if you don’t like it. I’d be cool with him making less, but let’s once again keep it real – if Shero didn’t pay it, someone else would gladly have paid that or even more to have him. Dennis Wideman’s in the same money league as Paul Martin, so y’all can just simmer down on that. And considering some of the folks making more than PaulMart, I’m fine with his cap hit.
I really don’t like calling people out individually, and I am not doing this to publicly shame anyone, but I think we need to take a look at some of the examples of the Martin-bashing that are out there to help illustrate my point. This blog post is perhaps one of the best recent examples upon which I can draw.
The author starts by assuming that the reader thinks Paul Martin is a joke, which speaks to the degree to which the Martin-bashing has caught on (or is perceived to have caught on) among Penguins fans. She also notes that she wished she had the time to include more statistics but couldn’t due to lack of time (hey, I understand that) to prove her point that the #smearPaulMartincampaign is justified.
Underneath all of the made-up stats and fabrications (seriously, just read the CBS article I linked to earlier and cross-reference that with her analysis of his play with regards to his concussion…and when it actually occurred) and her repeated mentions of how she “feels” that Martin’s a bad player, her main point and problem with Martin is simple: Paul Martin isn’t physical enough.
Let’s also take a look at some comments left in response to the above-referenced articles, as well as from around the internet. It’s admittedly a little hard to find anything more substantial than, “Paul Martin sucks,” or, “Paul Martin is terrible and the worst,” out there that would indicate why, exactly, they have arrived at such conclusions, but those that do echo the sentiment of the above author:
“Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t find the ‘soft play’ statistic anywhere, darn it.”
“He is certainly a whipping boy within the fan base because of his soft/finesse style.”
“…his most physical play is the poke check.”
“I rather believe that it is Martin’s style of passive, positional defense that seems to offend many.”
“let me tell you the main reason I hate paul martin. He looks like ellen degenerous. (sp?)”
That last one was just too ridiculous to not include. Sorry.
Let’s not forget the mentions of him being quiet and soft-spoken, too. While these characterizations aren’t done to paint him in a negative light – they’re simply ways to describe his personality – they become important when viewed within the larger context of the ways in which he’s criticized and the reasons for said criticism.
Now, these critiques obviously aren’t new in hockey, and they aren’t only leveled at Martin. Rather, these should sound extremely familiar, particularly to anyone who’s ever had a European player on their roster. How many times have we seen the word “soft” used to negatively characterize a player (often from Europe), after all?
With all of this in mind, it is my firm belief that Paul Martin wouldn’t be the subject of nearly as much criticism if he played a more physical game and if he were a bigger hitter. Just as Brooks Orpik gets a free pass for his numerous mistakes (and, uhh, there have really been plenty of those this year, guys) because he doesn’t hesitate to lay someone out in the neutral zone, Martin absorbs even more finger-pointing because he doesn’t engage in those highlight-reel affirmations of masculinity. Martin also doesn’t have goal-scoring and flashiness to fall back on like his most recent defensive partner, Kris Letang, who also regularly throws the body (and who also somehow escaped the wrath of fans after his playoff meltdown).
He’s an anomaly in the Penguins defensive corps with regards to hitting, especially with the departure of Zbynek Michalek (who was often the subject of similar criticism and performed far worse than Martin over the course of the year but never became the target of such concentrated hatred and ire).
Again, I don’t mean to suggest that Martin be immune from legitimate criticism (Paul, might want to mention your concussion symptoms right away and not hold the puck so long sometimes…). But what we’ve seen happen is an irrational fan hatred whose flames were fanned by social media and fueled by our bias, especially in Pittsburgh, toward more Orpik-style hockey. And it’s really, really embarrassing. Here’s a guy who has stated he wants to remain in Pittsburgh and acknowledged that things didn’t always go as planned this past year, and instead of fan support, he gets a slew of disgusting personal attacks in the form of a trendy hashtag. Way to go, guys.
Ray Shero came into the NHL Draft saying he’d like to trade 1 or 2 defensemen, and to the dismay of many, Zbynek Michalek was sent away while Martin remained. Shero has stated he’s not “actively shopping” Martin despite other teams’ inquiries, but we’ll see what the future holds. The numbers, as well as public statements, would seem to indicate that Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma have faith in Paul Martin, and those same numbers tell a story that will disappoint his haters. If he’s back in Pittsburgh in the fall, I’m fully confident he’s going to play steady, solid defense – even if it’s never going to be enough to satisfy a lot of people here in Pittsburgh. And if he’s gone, I sincerely hope he lands someplace where the fan base will know better than to engage in such disproportionate, disappointing scapegoating.
I’m sure you’re probably laughing, but I really don’t care. Joke’s on you. #knowledgeispowerbabygirl