After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the San Jose Sharks went into the offseason with a clear focus on becoming tougher defensively.
A day after acquiring Martin Jones to be their new starting goaltender, the Sharks opened free agency Wednesday by finding the veteran defenseman they sought when they signed Paul Martin to a $19.4 million, four-year contract.
”We feel good we got these two pieces off our checklist,” general manager Doug Wilson said. ”Now it allows us to look at some other things and explore. But we don’t feel like there’s any rush. These two pieces needed to be addressed. They have been and we’ll go forward from here.”
The Sharks’ main priority after missing the playoffs had been improving a defense that allowed the most goals per game for the franchise in nine years.
With those holes addressed, the Sharks hope they have enough talent up front with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau to be a contender once again.
”For me I wanted the most important thing is to win,” Martin said. ”I haven’t won a Cup yet. That was at the top of the list. Besides last year missing the playoffs, San Jose was one of the teams at the top of my list as far as being able to win. They’ve proven that they can win.”
The 34-year-old Martin had spent the past five seasons in Pittsburgh. He is strong in the defensive zone and is a good puck mover. He had three goals and 17 assists in 74 games last season. He had only 20 penalty minutes and skated an average of 22:47 per game.
New coach Peter DeBoer sees Martin as a good defense partner for offensive-minded Brent Burns after seeing how well Burns played at the world championships with the steady Dan Hamhuis.
”I thought it really supported and helped Burnsie with his game,” said DeBoer, who was an assistant coach on Team Canada. ”I see Paul Martin being able to slide in there and have that same effect.”
Martin also is a strong penalty killer who will be counted on to help fix a unit that finished 25th in the league last year after killing 78.5 percent of short-handed opportunities.
Martin spent his first six seasons with New Jersey and has 43 goals and 229 assists in 697 career games.
”I’m pretty flexible as far as being able to play in pretty much any circumstance,” Martin said. ”I enjoy the challenge of minutes and shutting down top lines. That’s kind of been a lot of what my career has been so far.”
San Jose now has veterans Martin, Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon all locked up for at least the next two seasons. With 20-year-old Mirco Mueller also in the fold, the Sharks hope they will have a strong defensive core to help the team get back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2014-15 season.
Wilson still would like to add depth up front and possibly another defenseman but has filled two of his most important holes with Martin and Jones.
”He’s just methodically knocking things off the checklist,” DeBoer said. ”He’s doing exactly what he said we’d do. I really like the direction we’re going. It just fits with the attitude that I got with the players when I talked to them after the season. They’re ready to bounce back and bounce back in a big way.”
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