The Matt Martin Hockey Academy was in full swing on Tuesday, with roughly 85 youth hockey players and numerous counselors roaming the Northwell Health Ice Center in Eisenhower Park in advance of a day on the ice.
The camp’s titular Islander only has a few more days before his professional address in all likelihood changes. But life, and summer camp, must go on, so as Martin prepped for a day of teaching, he also prepped for what’s to come when NHL free agency begins at noon on Friday.
“Obviously there’s a lot of thoughts that go through your head,” Martin told Newsday. “As the time ticks away here, you wonder what’s in store for you and your future. You still hope something can get done [with the Islanders], but it’s a business. I never thought it would get this far, but this is how these things go.”
Martin has become a beloved Islander in his six seasons here, leading the NHL in hits (a subjectively recorded stat, depending on which arena you’re in) for five of those. He’s active on Long Island in the community as well, which led him to start the camp that runs this week — coincidentally these local kids hit the ice just after the Islanders’ prospects do for their minicamp.
The Islanders can still sign Martin, even after the bell rings on Friday. But since the season ended it was clear the Isles were not willing to meet Martin’s contract demands, believed to be $3 million per year on a four-year deal.
And, if the list of teams that have contacted Martin’s agent is any indication, he will find another team that will pay his asking price. A source said that the Bruins, Canadiens, Leafs, Kings, Flames and Red Wings were among the teams that have reached out; the Rangers have as well but their cap situation makes a fit nearly impossible.
Martin is disappointed that the Islanders are letting him go, but that doesn’t change how he feels about his time on the Island.
“It’s not a situation where I want to leave, I’d hope they want to keep me as well, but it’s just how the business works,” he said. “I don’t like to hold a lot of grudges. I’ve grown a lot with this organization and I have a lot of things to look back and be happy about. If it is time to move on, it’s time to move on. You make those connections in a new community. But I very much want to stay involved here if that happens.”
One of Martin’s camp counselors on Tuesday was Casey Cizikas, Martin’s close friend and the owner of a brand-new, five-year contract from the Islanders worth $16.5 million.
“It’s definitely going to be tough. He’s my best friend on the team,” Cizikas said. “But hockey’s a business, these things happen. I wish him nothing but the best and when we play each other, just try to get under his skin.”
Asked if Cizikas would try to fill the enforcer role and fight Martin when the two face each other as opponents, he laughed.
“Fight? I’ll probably just be holding on.”