Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, a key contributor in a postseason run that ended in the NHL semifinals, admitted Saturday that he played with a broken foot.
The 33-year-old veteran, who had four goals and six points across three series for Vegas, disclosed the injury at a pivotal time, as he’s about to hit unrestricted free agency next month and is certain to attract interest on the open market after concluding a six-year, $24 million contract.
While there are other big-name, big-money defensemen on Vegas’ roster, such as Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore, Martinez, who during the team’s final media availability did not say when the injury happened, developed into a model of consistency for the Golden Knights after he won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.
And he’s mastered the art of playing in pain. Despite the injury, he averaged 22:34 of ice time this postseason.
“I obviously couldn’t talk about it much,” Martinez said. “I touched on our medical staff. They did an incredible job taking care of me day in and day out.”
Though the ice time is impressive, and the scoring is a bonus for a high-powered team like Vegas, Martinez’s true strength lies in the defensive zone. Though he might get caught in the Stanley Cup Finals, he is currently the postseason leader in blocked shots with 72.
“In terms of my daily routine, it was a lot of rest and staying off it, and just managing the swelling and all that,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without our medical staff. I sound like a broken record, but they were pretty incredible. I’m very thankful to them to be able to manage something and put me in a position where I could go compete with the guys playing the best time of the year.”
Many teams will be in the market for a defense-first blueliner who can add offensive punch. Plus, Martinez is a proven playoff performer and this is likely his last chance at a big-time deal. So, the injury plays into his summer plans, for sure.
“I’ll be quite honest, I haven’t really thought about [his next deal] that much,” he said. “I’m obviously aware I am a UFA, but obviously the loss is still pretty fresh, just a couple days ago. I don’t really know yet. We’ll see what happens.”
The Knights — with their high-priced roster and several players already signed long term — will look to create salary-cap room next month, which might clear the way for another team to land Martinez.
The Knights have 22 players under contract for next season with under $3 million in open cap space — most of it coming from Martinez ($4 million average annual value) and Tomas Nosek ($1.25 million AAV) hitting free agency.
They have five players hitting unrestricted free agency after next season in Reilly Smith, Ryan Reaves, Brayden McNabb and Nick Holden. Marc-Andre Fleury, who was their MVP in the regular season, and Robin Lehner have a combined $12 million cap hit in net, putting them on the high end of goaltender investment in the NHL.
All of that salary — and their many moves in four seasons as an NHL team — have not won a Stanley Cup, though the Knights have advanced to the postseason in all four seasons.
“Unfortunately, we came up short, but we’re really close,” Martinez said. “I think a bounce here or there, maybe a couple extra goals. The one thing I’ve kind of learned, if you win the whole thing, you’re going to need luck along the way.
“I think we did a lot of really good things. You don’t get that far without playing good hockey.”
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