Veteran coach Martin perfect fit for Penguins
Jacques Martin is an early bird.
That is the only way he knows how to look for the Stanley Cup.
With 613 wins as head coach, 10th most of all time, on his resume, Martin is without the one victory that will complete a nearly 30-year NHL journey. So has spent the past month arriving daily at Consol Energy Center around 6 a.m. — as if he believes that beating the sunrise to the rink eventually will pay off in silver.
Actually, fellow Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato suspects Martin, 61, may believe exactly that.
“I played for Roger Neilson, and Jacques reminds me a lot of Roger,” Granato said of Neilson, his former coach with the New York Rangers.
“Experience, confidence, knowledge, energy — and the discipline that really brings everything together to help you get better.”
Granato knew his Penguins boss, coach Dan Bylsma, had coveted a nontraditional third assistant coach for a couple of seasons. Wired similarly as Bylsma — a film freak/workaholic with a seeming bottomless reserve of energy — Granato also knew that third assistant would prove difficult to find.
If not for Martin, Bylsma said his staff would still consist of Granato, Todd Reirden and goaltending coach Mike Bales.
“Jacques Martin is everything I was looking for,” Bylsma said. “I could tell he would be from our conversations, and I’ve seen examples of that every day.”
Reirden witnessed it on Day 1 of camp during a film session. Martin, reputable for his defensive acumen, did not hesitate to ask a specific question about changes Reirden had implemented to help the Penguins finish seventh in overall goals against last season.
“We don’t spend a lot of time in defensive-zone coverage, and it’s because we have forwards that have the puck so much,” Reirden said.
“Jacques wanted to know what we are asking our defensemen to think about when they were in coverage. He wanted to see if we were asking them to think about too much. He just wanted to know, so he asked. That’s a little thing, but he has seen enough little things that you want to pay attention.”
The little things Martin brings to the Penguins may come at perfect time for several core components of a Cup-contending group.
Bylsma, busy this season with duties as Team USA’s Olympic coach, hired somebody who previously built rosters as a general manager, coached clubs with championship expectations and worked on the same bench with an established superior (Team Canada’s Pat Quinn in 2006).
Bylsma also hired somebody who literally and figuratively speaks Marc-Andre Fleury’s language. Martin is French Canadian and a former goalie.
Bylsma also hired somebody who nurtured Zdeno Chara’s raw talent. Chara became a perennial Norris Trophy candidate after working with Martin in Ottawa, and now he has a chance to mold Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.
Bylsma also hired somebody who extracted dominant defense from a couple of skilled star forwards, Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa. Martin can speak with authority when preaching that defense does not mean sacrificed offense to Penguins’ superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Actually, Crosby and Malkin already were quite willing to pay attention to Martin, whose Canadiens held them to a combined three goals and eight points in the Penguins’ seven-game playoff loss to Montreal in 2010.
“The teams he coached were pretty disciplined as far as their systems go,” Crosby said. “He’s a coach that instills that.”
Martin has shied from public comment during training camp, perhaps because as Penguins general manager Ray Shero said, “Jacques has no ego.”
That lack of ego — and a penchant for cutting to the chase upon recognition of a necessary adjustment — is why Bylsma may rotate Martin between the bench and media level during for games. Bylsma wants Martin to be where he thinks he can best formulate opinions and suggestions.
Far from a shadowy figure lurking in the background if the Penguins were to struggle and show signs of tuning out Bylsma, Martin has appeared to relish this role — one with opportunity to finally win big but with none of the main-man pressure.
“He just seems so calm, very even-keeled,” Crosby said. “You see him interacting with everybody — from the players to the trainers — and it is like he’s been a part of this for a while.
“He seems very comfortable.”
Neilson had won 433 games as bench boss before joining Ottawa’s staff as an assistant in 2001. He was 67 then, having gone a professional lifetime without touching the Stanley Cup.
He instantly became a respected and trusted from-the-outside voice for a talented Senators squad. He also became an unexpected mentor for a 49-year-old head coaching looking to take his club to the Cup.
That head coach was Martin, and he will be awake very early this morning — still looking.