Cage Match: Alec Martinez vs. Erik Johnson

by Rick Roos on May 4, 2016

Digging deep on defensemen Alec Martinez and Erik Johnson. Who's the better own?


Facing off this week are defensemen Alec Martinez and Erik Johnson. Both are 28, and seemingly at career crossroads. Can Martinez continue his late blooming to further improve? Will Johnson be able to climb back to previous production levels, which saw him post 39 points at both age 22 and 26? Let’s find out – Cage Match starts now!


Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

Martinez wasn’t selected until 95th overall in 2007, at age 20 and after 35 points in 81 games during two seasons of college hockey. Following 32 points in only 42 games in his next college campaign, Martinez earned a ticket to the AHL (23 points in 75 games) and a four game cameo with the Kings. During the next two years, Martinez produced 46 points in 75 AHL games, but struggled when given an opportunity in the NHL, to the tune of only 28 points in 111 combined games. In the three seasons immediately prior to 2015-16, Martinez missed 20+ games in each campaign and didn’t post more than 22 points in any single season. And although his 31 points in 2015-16 was seen by many as a belated breakout, he’d posted 44 points in 117 games in 2013-14 and 2014-15, which was also a 31 point pace.

Johnson was the first overall selection (by St. Louis) in 2006. After becoming the only player in over 40 years to opt for college hockey after being the top NHL pick, Johnson landed with the Blues for 2007-08 and produced 33 points in 69 games. Unfortunately for poolies, other than his rookie year and his two 39 point campaigns (2009-10, 2013-14), Johnson has largely disappointed, with two campaigns in the 26-27 point range, abbreviated periods of solid production (ten points in 22 games after being traded to Colorado during the 2010-11 campaign; 23 points in 47 games in 2014-15), plus one truly miserable season (only four points in 31 games in 2012-13).

Martinez just finished the first season of a six year deal that brings with it a cap hit and AAV of $4M per season, while 2016-17 will mark the first under Johnson’s new seven year deal which dings the cap at $6M per season.


Ice Time


Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen


21:09 (A.M.) – 3rd

23:26 (E.J.) – 2nd

1:59 (A.M.) – 3rd

2:02 (E.J.) – 3rd

2:15 (A.M.) – 4th

3:05 (E.J.) – 2nd


19:55 (A.M.) – 4th

24:25 (E.J.) – 1st

1:56 (A.M.) – 4th

2:38 (E.J.) – 2nd

1:35 (A.M.) – 4th

2:29 (E.J.) – 2nd


15:40 (A.M.) – 6th

23:00 (E.J.) – 1st

1:58 (A.M.) – 4th

2:38 (E.J.) – 2nd

0:25 (A.M.) – 8th

1:00 (E.J.) – 7th


It’s tempting to view the data for Martinez with optimism, what with his ice time rising by more than 25% over the course of just two seasons. The issue is, within the over five minutes of Total Ice Time he’s gained during that stretch has come literally no added PP Ice Time but nearly two more minutes of SH Ice Time. Beyond that, Martinez likely is close to being maxed out in terms of his Total Ice Time on the Kings, as Drew Doughty will continue to eat minutes and Jake Muzzin is signed through 2020.


But if we look beneath the surface, we see that Martinez’s PP Ice Time holding steady was actually somewhat of a positive. That’s because the Kings have seen their PP opportunities drop from 284 in 2013-14, to 247 in 2014-15, to 235 in 2015-16. Thus, despite the Kings receiving just under 20% fewer PP chances in 2015-16 compared to 2013-14, Martinez didn’t see his PP Ice Time fall, which is more than can be said for Drew Doughty (down from 3:53 in 2013-14 to 3:03 in 2015-16) and Jake Muzzin (down from 2:33 in 2014-15 to 2:18 in 2015-16).


The issue with Johnson is his PP and SH Ice Times are trending in unfavorable directions, with his SH Ice Time now above the dreaded 3:00 per game mark that readers of this column know represents a threshold poolies don’t want to see crossed. Case in point – of the 12 defensemen who averaged above 3:00 per game of SH duty in 2015-16, only three posted above 30 points, and none surpassed 37.


Simply put, Johnson’s role has shifted in view of the emergence of Tyson Barrie. With Barrie in the mix, the Avs don’t need to rely as heavily on Johnson to provide offense. Plus, unlike Barrie, Johnson can be confidently deployed on the PK and in a shutdown role. As a result, even with Colorado’s summer 2015 addition of workhorse Francois Beauchemin to eat up the toughest minutes, Johnson still saw gains in SH Ice Time and a decrease in PP Time. Unless Barrie, who’s an RFA, somehow doesn’t re-sign with the Avs, Johnson seems doomed to more of the same role, and the worse stats that seem to come with it.


Secondary Categories




(per game)


(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)


(per game)

PP Points

(per game)


0.51 (A.M.)

0.68 (E.J.)

2.10 (A.M.)

1.72 (E.J.)

2.33 (A.M.)

2.70 (E.J.)

1.59 (A.M.)

2.39 (E.J.)

0.16 (A.M.)

0.08 (E.J.)


0.18 (A.M.)

0.70 (E.J.)

1.69 (A.M.)

1.98 (E.J.)

2.09 (A.M.)

2.27 (E.J.)

1.84 (A.M.)

2.44 (E.J.)

0.07 (A.M.)

0.12 (E.J.)


0.23 (A.M.)

0.76 (E.J.)


1.70 (E.J.)

1.23 (A.M.)

1.62 (E.J.)

1.29 (A.M.)

1.96 (E.J.)

0.13 (A.M.)

0.17 (E.J.)


Many poolies awakened to Martinez this season due to his gains in PIM and Hits, which unfortunately, might not be sustainable, as they’re not consistent with his somewhat flat outputs in these categories in the previous two campaigns. So although it’s possible Martinez could maintain or even bolster the improvements he made in these areas, poolies would be best served not banking on that happening, or risk being unpleasantly surprised.


On the other hand, Martinez has seen his Blocked Shots increase with each season, so it’s more realistic he’d keep those at a similar level in 2016-17 and beyond. Also, his PPP rate was near his 2013-14 level, so that too is more believable. As for his SOG per game, it’s troubling that was only 15% higher than 2013-14 despite a 25% Ice Time increase. Moreover, among defensemen who played 75+ games in 2015-16, Martinez’s Total Ice Time per game stood 40th. Yet only nine of the 39 rearguards above him fired fewer SOG than his 124; and of those nine, only one who’s under the age of 35 has ever scored more than 37 points (Nick Leddy – 40 points this season).


The news is also mixed for Johnson. He’s unquestionably valuable in multi-cat leagues, with consistently solid PIM and excellent Hits, plus Blocked Shots that, like Martinez’s have been increasing with each passing season. Just how valuable is his combination of Hits, Blocks, and SOG? I stopped checking once I got to 1995-96, but over the last 20 years there was no other defenseman who finished a full season with 1.7+ Hits, 2.5+ Blocked Shots, and 2.3+ SOG per game as was posted by Johnson in 2015-16. And that’s not even factoring in Johnson’s very solid 0.68 PIM per game! Therefore, in leagues where these categories are all counted, poolies might be willing to settle for a 20-30 point version of Johnson if it means he continues producing this extraordinarily in these other areas.


The bad news is Johnson’s PPP has followed suit with his PP Ice Time in decreasing with each passing season. Given this pattern, it’s unlikely he’d see a rebound in PPP. That’s unfortunate for poolies, since Johnson lack of PP scoring of late seemingly represents the missing ingredient in him producing in line with past outputs. For example, had Johnson been back at 0.17 PPP per game for 2015-16, his point total would’ve been at 33, rather than 27. Although that sounds like a modest difference, remember that’s 33 points in only 73 games, which translates to an 82 game scoring pace of 37, or just below his career high of 39.


Luck-Based Metrics


PDO/SPSV (5×5)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)


1014 (A.M.)

971 (E.J.)

49.8% (A.M.)

43.0% (E.J.)

29.5% (A.M.)

42.5% (E.J.)

56.5% (A.M.)

42.9% (E.J.)


1022 (A.M.)

1007 (E.J.)

50.2% (A.M.)

44.1% (E.J.)

49.5% (A.M.)

39.4% (E.J.)

50.0% (A.M.)

55.6% (E.J.)


1028 (A.M.)

1011 (E.J.)

56.3% (A.M.)

44.9% (E.J.)

41.9% (A.M.)

37.0% (E.J.)

90.0% (A.M.)

52.2% (E.J.)


Finally – some encouragement for poolies who own Martinez. Although he’s been unable to improve upon his 31 point scoring pace over the past three seasons, the fact that he even maintained such a pace is a good sign, what with his OZ% dropping from 56.3% to under 50% over the past two seasons (plus, as noted above, the Kings getting fewer PP opportunities with each passing season). Also, his 5×5 IPP was below 30% in 2015-16; had it been 45.7% (i.e., the average of what it was the past two seasons), then he’d have received seven more points for 2015-16, which would’ve given him a total of 38 for the season and elevated him from 46th in d-man scoring all the way up to 29th. Thus, there does seem to be realistic hope that Martinez hasn’t maxed out his production.


The news for Johnson isn’t good or bad. Although his OZ% has dropped in each of the two past seasons, the difference is negligible; plus, he’s had 85%-95% for combined IPPs in each campaign. Since he hasn’t been significantly helped or hurt by luck, it seems his production is largely tied to his Ice Time and PP output. While that’s helpful in allowing poolies to more reliably predict what he’s going to produce, it also means that if 2015-16 trends continue he’s unlikely to rebound.


Who Wins?


Picking a winner largely boils down to deciding whether to be more hopeful about Martinez producing better based on his abnormally low 5×5 IPP in 2015-16 or on Johnson finding a way to produce on the PP again. On that basis, plus a lower risk of less than 30 points, I’ll go with Martinez in point-only leagues. Johnson gets the win, however, in kitchen sink leagues counting PIM, Hits, Blocked Shots, and SOG due to – as we saw – his literally unprecedented across the board contributions making it entirely acceptable to poolies were he to remain slightly below the 30 point mark.


If you have Martinez and/or Johnson in a keeper, best to hold, unless either one puts up an extended hot streak. In that case, you’d likely owe it to yourself to sell since nothing we’ve seen here suggests that they could sustain a pace above 40 points for anything more than the short term.


In one year leagues, I’m concerned both might cost you more than the value they’d provide. That’s because Martinez might be seen by too many as a candidate to improve upon his 31 points, in which case you’d have to reach somewhat to get him, resulting in – at best – him providing what you pay for but also a real risk of falling short of his cost. As for Johnson, he too will likely go for more than he should in drafts, since poolies will point to the 62 points in 127 games he had in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and pick him with that optimistically in mind, even though his PP and SH Ice Time trends suggest he won’t be able to come close to duplicating that output in 2016-17.