In his first two seasons with the Penguins, defenseman Paul Martin cleaved much of the fan base into two distinct groups.
One views him as an unqualified blight on the franchise, a liability all over the ice who routinely makes good situations bad, and bad situations worse. The other isn't so charitable.
It wasn't always that way. Martin was projected as a critical piece of the personnel puzzle when, as an unrestricted free agent, he signed a figve-year, $25 million contract in July 2010.
Penguins busy getting in game shape
Sidney Crosby and other Penguins players talk about getting ready for the NHL season. (Video by Bob Donaldson; 1/8/2012)
His 150-game statistical report card: Five goals, 46 assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-18. Numbers, though, don't begin to express just how miserable 2011-12 was for Martin. His game slipped out of sync and stayed there and, in the process, he morphed into a pinata for his many critics. One of whom was himself.
"I know how [Martin] motivates himself and holds himself accountable," defenseman Brooks Orpik said Tuesday. "And I think he was just as disappointed as anybody else last year in how he played."
Well, that might be a bit of a stretch, because an awful lot of people were terribly disappointed in his work.
Even coach Dan Bylsma, asked if there was a flaw in Martin's game that could be isolated and corrected in the offseason, said, "I certainly don't think we're talking about one specific thing that we can identify."
But, even though Martin's stock has plummeted with many who follow the Penguins, his place in the team's plans going into the soon-to-start season doesn't seem to have changed much.
Bylsma, who knows better than most how much Martin struggled in 2011-12, projects him as a top-four defenseman, and is leaning toward deploying him with Brooks Orpik on the top defense-oriented pairing.
"Depending on how our lineup shakes out in camp and going into the first game, being paired with Orpik is a possibility that we maybe haven't done in the past," Bylsma said.
"We don't have a lot of left[-handed] shots, so to put two left shots together is [potentially problematic] ... but Paul has been a player who has played 28 minutes, 27, 26 minutes. A lot of minutes in a defending situation against good players.
"With a physical player like Brooks, that type of pairing would be a possibility that we could see. And one we'll probably see a little bit of in camp."
That won't be until sometime this weekend, at the earliest.
The NHL Board of Governors will meet in New York this afternoon to ratify the collective bargaining agreement worked out early Sunday morning, but the 700-plus members of the NHL Players' Association won't begin voting on the deal until after the Board, and might not conclude its balloting until Saturday.
That means camps won't open until Sunday and regular-season play will begin Jan. 19 and be limited to 48 games per team.
Duquesne has a basketball game against Virginia Commonwealth Jan. 19 at Consol Energy Center, so the Penguins will open on the road, likely that afternoon in Philadelphia.
Martin, who spent the extended offseason in his native Minnesota, was not among the 14 Penguins (and ex-teammate Brent Johnson) who participated in a player-organized workout at Consol Energy Center Tuesday, and it is not known when he will arrive.
When he does show up, Martin will be met by coaches and teammates who remain convinced that he can make a significant contribution to their success in coming months.
"Paul is a good hockey player," Bylsma said. "You just ask around the league. You just ask the players he plays against. He's a good hockey player."
Martin was all of that, and often more, during with the Devils in New Jersey, where he played before being lured to the Penguins by a contract that just might be at the root of his struggles.
"When you come to a new organization, sign as a free agent as a big-ticket guy, it changes the [public] perception," Bylsma said. "Sometimes, it even changes your own feelings about what you need to do on the ice.
"We dealt with that with Paul and with [since-traded] Zbynek Michalek, a little bit, the last couple of years. There is certainly some added focus and added pressure [on someone] coming in as that type of player."
A forgettable season in 2010-11, followed by a downright dismal one, could temper most expectations of Martin, at least a little. But that doesn't mean he's an afterthought in the Penguins' plans.
"He's counted on as a big part of the team," Orpik said.
"He'll definitely have to be this year if we're going to be successful."
NOTES -- A sold-out charity game in Johnstown tonight that was to feature a number of Penguins has, as expected, been canceled. Those players pulled out because of the threat of injuries so close to the start of camp and said the possibility the game would have to be called off if there was a CBA deal had been discussed while the event was being organized. ... New goalie Tomas Vokoun and new forward Brandon Sutter are expected to arrive here today, although that is not guaranteed.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published January 9, 2013 5:00 AM