PITTSBURGH – Twelve years in the NHL, and first-year San Jose Sharks defenseman Paul Martin never has missed the playoffs and is striving to become the third Elk River-raised player to win a Stanley Cup (Joel Otto, 1989 Flames; Dan Hinote, 2001 Avalanche).
In a twist of fate, it would have to come at the expense of the team he played for the previous five seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I never expected this scenario. Quite the script,” said Martin, 35, who signed a four-year, $19.4 million contract with the Sharks. “I’m trying not to get caught up in the distraction. Once the puck drops, all that noise goes away.”
Martin was acquired to be a stable, steady, reliable defense partner for Brent Burns, and Martin has been just that for the Norris Trophy finalist.
“He’s been the same player for so long, and he’s just so comfortable with what he is,” said Keith Ballard, Martin’s teammate on back-to-back Gophers national championship teams. “He’s a great defender, a great skater, he’s smart and he moves the puck well.
“He doesn’t try to do anything out of the ordinary. I guess you can call it a coach’s dream where you know exactly what you’re going to get every night.”
Martin and Ballard can’t shake each other. They lived next door to each other in college, bought townhouses next to each other when they turned pro, bought land together and have cabins next to each other.
“I’m just so excited for him,” Ballard said. “He’s so unassuming both as a person and a player. Athletically, he’s one of the most gifted people I’ve ever been around. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, he’s naturally good at it. He’s reserved. Just quiet and very humble.’’
Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson and coach Pete DeBoer say Martin has been everything for which the Sharks had hoped.
“The greatest compliment of a player is he makes everybody around him better, and Paul’s that in spades,” Wilson said. “He’s been outstanding, not just for Brent Burns, but for all the players, to understand what a professional really is.”
Added DeBoer, “His game’s so understated, but it’s so important for what we do.”
Martin has watched Minnesotans Matt Cullen and Bret Hedican bring the Stanley Cup home before. He hopes to do the same.
“Minnesotans, we all see it, how special it is and how much people appreciate it,” Martin said.
Expansion on agenda
The NHL executive committee, which includes Wild owner Craig Leipold, is expected to meet in the next week to in part discuss expansion and make a recommendation to the Board of Governors in advance of its June 22 meeting in Las Vegas.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday the recommendation would be whether there will be no expansion, whether expansion will be deferred at least a year or whether there will be a one-team (Las Vegas) or two-team expansion (Quebec City).
• The 2016-17 NHL schedule will be released June 20-21.
Tough day for Braun
Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, a White Bear Lake native, played with a heavy heart after his father-in-law, former NHLer Tom Lysiak, died Monday morning of leukemia. Braun will temporarily leave the Sharks after Game 2 Wednesday to travel to Atlanta to be with his wife, Jessie, for Lysiak’s funeral.
Lysiak was 63. The second overall pick by the Atlanta Flames in 1973, he played 919 NHL games.
“Full of life,” Braun said. “Loved to hang out with the boys, talk about the hockey days when he played. Great husband, great father. He was great to me. He always welcomed me into the family. Tough day. He’s going to be missed.”
Braun said it was hard focusing Monday. He was on the ice for both Pittsburgh goals 62 seconds apart in Monday’s 3-2 Penguins win.
“I’d like to put a little better effort out,” Braun said. “I just have to separate that and come out and play a little better.”
What comes around …
Ten years after getting fired by the Boston Bruins, Mike Sullivan, who took over for Mike Johnston in December, is coaching the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final against the team for which he once played.
Sullivan played for the Sharks their first three years in existence, including the record 71-loss team in 1992-93.
“It just seems like an eternity ago. Doug Wilson was our captain,” Sullivan said of the now-Sharks GM. “Just to have the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup is a great thrill. Is it ironic that it’s against San Jose? Probably. But I’m not a picky guy. I’d play against anybody.”