The Rangers filled a key coaching staff vacancy on Monday by adding Jacques Martin as an assistant coach. Martin replaces Lindy Ruff after the latter joined the rival Devils as head coach.
Ruff oversaw a Rangers defense and penalty kill that ranked near the bottom in most defensive metrics over the past three seasons. In his final season with the Rangers, the Blueshirts tied for 23rd with a 77.4 penalty-killing percentage, and allowed the second-highest total of shots against per game at an even 34.
Martin’s arrival should help the Rangers improve their defensive zone coverage and penalty-killing efficiency. Three weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins opted not to renew the contracts of Martin and fellow assistants Sergei Gonchar and Mark Recchi, and Pittsburgh’s clear out seemed like a knee-jerk reaction – especially given the success Martin cultivated for the organization.
The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017 with Martin serving as a defensive guru on Mike Sullivan’s staff. Last season, Pittsburgh tied for eighth overall with a penalty-killing percentage of 82.1, and tied for fifth-best with 29.7 shots against per game.
During the 2020 playoffs, Pittsburgh was shorthanded 12 times and successfully killed off all 12 penalties. Pittsburgh’s shots against per game also improved during the playoffs to a rate of 28.8. There was plenty of blame to go around for the Penguins’ qualifying round exit, but sending Martin packing seemed like a rash decision by Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford.
The Rangers acted quickly to secure Martin’s services, and if they hadn’t, another team seeking defensive improvement would have turned to him. Across seven seasons in Pittsburgh, the now 67-year-old coach helped Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin develop into a highly-effective first defensive pair.
Judging by the Rangers’ youthful blue line, Martin appears to be a good fit to harness prime-entering and up-and-coming talents. Tony DeAngelo, Darren Raddysh, Brandon Crawley, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, and Libor Hajek are aged 24 and under, and eventually, prospects K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, and others will be knocking on the NHL door.
Adding a coach of Martin’s experience and ability sounds like a win for the Rangers. Martin has been coaching in the NHL since 1986, and has 613 wins to his name through 1,294 games while serving as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers, and Montreal Canadiens. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1998-99 while in Ottawa.
Pittsburgh’s castaway could be a big gain for the Blueshirts.