Quick: Name another Vegas Golden Knights defenseman besides Alex Pietrangelo who has a Stanley Cup ring.
What do you mean you didn’t know there was another one on the roster?
He wasn’t a flashy signing like Pietrangelo. He doesn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers like Shea Theodore. He certainly didn’t have the publicly emotional reaction to being traded a la Nate Schmidt. No, when the Golden Knights brought in Alec Martinez they added a veteran defenseman with a Stanley Cup pedigree almost without fanfare.
Martinez has gone about his business in a quiet, composed manner that exudes confidence and experience. I had real concern that the Golden Knights might move Martinez and his $4M cap hit to make room for Pietrangelo. Fortunately they did not and kept an underrated leader onboard.
You might say all of that is well and good, but how is Martinez the key to the entire defense?
Every NHL team in playoff contention has a solid top pairing. Vegas is no exception. Pietrangelo and Brayden McNabb will be one of the best and face top matchups every night.
Beyond that is where the great NHL defenses are separated from the mediocre. Especially the 3/4 pair, where Martinez is paired with Theodore. If you take a look at teams that are perennial contenders, they boast a first-class top pair and a really good 3/4 right behind it. Those four players eat most of your minutes and are responsible for controlling much of the play. If you have a good top four, you spend less time in your own end and more time generating scoring chances the other way. The star players have their names in lights, but it’s the guys right below them that put them there. Think best supporting actor roles. The movie doesn’t shine without them.
I’m fully in the Theodore camp, and believe him to be a future Norris Trophy candidate. I do think Pietrangelo’s first season in Vegas may steal the thunder, but Theodore has a long and productive career ahead of him. Martinez is a big part of helping him over the hump.
Not only does Martinez carry the credibility of winning it all, but having played with someone like Drew Doughty in his prime. For those who might not remember when Doughty was dominant, he was a defenseman who could contribute on all fronts and play a physical gme as well. He was (and is) a leader for the Kings. You can learn a lot by watching one of the best play the game.
Martinez will give Theodore the ability to move or rush the puck worry-free, knowing his D partner will be watching his back. And for those concerned about Martinez slowing down at 33, consider that last season after a pair of down years with the Kings, he was able to get both his Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages back above 50 percent.
Pietrangelo can play with even more confidence. Martinez provides an anchor on the back end that in reality makes Vegas even more dangerous with this pair on the ice. And while as I mentioned almost every team has a great top pair, having a truly great second pair like the VGK makes your team elite.
Alec Martinez is the key to all of this. He keeps other teams honest by providing stability for Theodore to take off. Opponents have to game plan for two different top caliber D pairs, not just one. Even if you eliminate Pietrangeo and McNabb you probably won’t take away Martinez and Theodore as well.
The Golden Knights are capable of making a deep run again this year because Alec Martinez is the tie that binds. He should know. He’s done it. Twice.