SAN JOSE -– Money aside – and obviously that always plays a role – the primary reason that veterans like Joel Ward (three years, $9.825 million) and Paul Martin (four years, $19.4 million) signed in San Jose last summer was for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. Neither of the 35-year-olds has ever been this deep in the playoffs before.
So far so good, after the Sharks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday.
“I thought this team had a lot of the pieces of that puzzle,” said Martin, reflecting back on his decision to join the Sharks, on Wednesday night. “[General manager] Doug [Wilson] did a great job bringing guys in that he did to make that push for it.”
Ward said: “The core group of guys that was here on paper was unbelievable. … And, I think that motivation last year of not making the playoffs definitely [brought] a hungry attitude. I definitely saw a lot of positive attributes, for sure."
Martin and Ward represent the kind of depth players the Sharks simply haven’t had in the recent past. Just consider some of the names from that 2014 team that lost to the Kings.
Among those former Sharks that weren’t even in the NHL anymore at the end of the 2015-16 regular season were Raffi Torres, James Sheppard, Scott Hannan, Alex Stalock, Marty Havlat, Adam Burish and Matt Irwin. Others like Brad Stuart, Mike Brown and Tyler Kennedy will be fortunate if they’re still in the league next year.
Martin and Ward aren’t the only replacements, but along with goalie Martin Jones they’ve been the most valuable new additions, especially based on what they’re doing in the playoffs so far.
In 18 games, Martin has five assists and a plus-10 rating, second on the team behind only Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s plus-13. Like he has done all year, he’s played a quiet, responsible game on the blue line, allowing partner Brent Burns to thrive while also serving as a veteran conduit from the coaching staff to the rest of the blue line group. Martin has been in the NHL playoffs in each of his 12 seasons in the league.
Ward was already known as a clutch playoff performer before he signed with the Sharks, scoring some huge goals with the Capitals. This season, he scored in San Jose’s Game 7 rout of Nashville, and had two goals in each of games five and six of the Blues series, helping to put away a strong St. Louis club.
His second goal on Wednesday, finishing off a rush with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, was the game-winner.
Coach Pete DeBoer played a large role in bringing Ward to San Jose after having him at last year’s World Championships, and believes Ward’s ability to produce in the most important moments is no fluke.
“I'm a big believer that if you're a clutch playoff performer, that's something that's a gift,” he said. “That doesn't go away.”
“The playoffs fit him. He's a big, heavy guy. I don't think it was any secret, this roster here -– considering L.A., Anaheim, St. Louis –- we had to get bigger, heavier, harder to play against so that we could play this time of year. Everybody that Doug brought in had some of those types of characteristics.”
Joe Thornton sang the praises of both Martin and Ward on Wednesday night, too.
“Paulie Martin, I think just playing against him over the years, just a tremendous player. I think he allows Burnzie to be Burnzie. He goes and creates offense, and Paulie is there to help support him.”
“Ward is just a big-time player. … You saw again tonight, when the game gets a little bit more important, Wardy always shows up and has a big game.”