As Sidney Crosby is once again putting any doubt aside that he’s the best player in the world, there are a slew of Pens players that are making a name for themselves this year as well. James Neal has eight power play goals and is showing that last season was no fluke. The most shocking surprise – in hockey, not just Pittsburgh – is the play of Chris Kunitz. He currently leads the league in +/- at 22, is third in points with 37 and second in goals with18.
Chris Kunitz people.
On a team with Crosby, Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, it’s Kunitz that’s standing out the most.
However, there is one player has had an excellent year as well, but doesn’t seem to get the recognition for it that he should. All of last year and in the off-season, the Penguins scapegoat was Paul Martin. I’m not one to talk bad about an athlete, but man was he bad last year. He knew it. He knew that he was a mess on the ice. The Penguins wanted to trade him, but the only problem was, there was no team that wanted him. Sound familiar? (Tyler Kennedy this year?)
As it turns out – as of now – it looks like not moving him worked our for the best for the Pens and Martin. Martin has been anchoring the Penguins defense along with Letang all season. His skating has returned, he’s running the point on the power play, his defensive play has returned to the level it was at in New Jersey and he already has five goals in 25 games which equals his total in his first two years combined.
It’s another example of a veteran athlete which was written off only to find his groove again.
Do you know who could be, well, the next Paul Martin?
Yes I know. Comparing baseball and hockey is irrelevant. It’s kind of like talking about if the Heat would stand a better chance against the Blackhawks in hockey or if the Hawks would do better against the Heat on the hardwood (here’s looking at you ESPN).
But if you think about it, the comparison can be made.
Both are in their early 30s (Barmes is 34 and Martin is 32) and were veterans brought in to help a team with a young, solid core. Like Martin, Barmes had a horrible season last year and fans were looking to run him out of town.
Similar to Martin, there was no player that was more upset with their own performance than Barmes was.
“I can’t blame the fans for booing me for the way I have been playing. If I were a fan, I’d probably boo me too,” Martin told me in an interview last year. “I work as hard as I can and am confident I will improve.”
Fans put too high of expectations on Barmes. The reality is that he’s a .249 hitter. The year before coming to Pittsburgh, he hit .244 and .235 the season before that.
A line of .204/.227/.298 in the first half of the season though? Needless to say that it was a horrible first half of baseball for Barmes. Manager Clint Hurdle brought Barmes in as he played for him in Colorado and remained one of his favorite players. Barmes was in the Rookie of the Year Award running under Hurdle, but his candidacy – and career – took a downward spiral after suffering a broken collarbone while carrying groceries up the stairs at his apartment.
While the first half of the season was a disaster for Barmes, his second half play was lost in the Pirates own collapse. You know the story by now. 16 games over .500 and the Pirates missed the playoffs – and mediocrity – for the 20th straight season.
It wasn’t Barmes’ fault in the second half of the season. His line actually improved to a more respectable .257/.322/.348 – the first two higher than his career averages – after the All-Star break. Barmes also matched his homerun total, cut his strikeouts down by 10 and with just four walks before the All-Star break, Barmes quadrupled that number to 16 in the second half alone.
Martin and Barmes were both bad last season and both deserved the criticism they received. The Penguins and Pirates fanbases both wanted the veterans gone, but to no avail. It worked out for the Penguins this year with Martin. I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d say the Pirates will see more of the second half Barmes this year compared to the first half.
Photo Credits: Yahoo! Sports