Recently there has been a lot of talk amongst the Montreal media, and by Habs fans on twitter and message boards about the possibility of trading Andrei Markov. With Markov set to become a free agent in July, many believe that moving the 35-year-old now is in the Habs’ best interests long-term. I’m here to tell you why that isn’t the case.
The Habs best-interests both short and long-term are best served by re-signing Markov to a reasonable deal. What is reasonable you ask? Well the numbers being floated out there by various reputable media sources like Renaud Lavoie and Bob McKenzie are that the sides are talking about a 2 or 3 year deal at around $6 million per season. I believe that this contract is appropriate value for a player like Markov, especially with the salary cap rising over the next several years due to the new TV deals with Sportsnet and NBC kicking in and ever rising ticket prices around the NHL.
Lets look at Markov’s role on the Habs. I think we can safely say that Markov is the #2 defenceman on the team right now, behind only the reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. A minority of fans might even say he’s better than Subban, but that’s getting off topic. No, the facts are that Markov plays the powerplay, the penalty kill, and big minutes at even strength for the team. He averages over 25 minutes a night overall for the Canadiens. Markov is also second on the team in scoring by defencemen with 33 points in 61 games this season.
Quite simply if Markov is moved for young assets such as prospects and picks, there is no player in Montreal’s system ready to assume the role he currently takes on. Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are both great prospects, and are either NHL ready or very close to it, but NHL ready and #2 defenceman in the NHL are two different things. Both will need development at the NHL level before they can be ready to take on such a huge role on a team that wants to make the playoffs. And so, even if Markov is moved at the deadline his minutes and role must be replaced for next year, or the 2014-15 season will be a long one for the Habs.
How does Montreal replace him? Perhaps through Unrestricted Free Agency? Here is a list of unrestricted free agent defenceman available this summer courtesy of capgeek. Looking through the list, I’ll say right now that I feel Markov is amongst the top three names on it, and might be the best defenceman on the list. Also, there are very few true #2 defencemen available. Given the number of teams that go looking for defensive help every year, and the fact that Montreal hasn’t had the best of luck with luring elite free agents I would bet that the team’s chances of signing a top tier defender are slim. Even if they do sign a defender, supply and demand means the price will be high.
Of course someone will likely bring up a hypothetical scenario where Markov is traded away and re-signs with Montreal on July 1st. Sure, this is possible, but the reality is that it is very rare. The number of UFAs traded at the deadline who re-sign with their old team in July is very small making the risk if this is the team’s plan, huge.
That would force Marc Bergevin into the trade market to acquire a replacement for Markov. Now getting a player of that caliber, in the summer, with a signed contract will likely cost the Habs as much or more in terms of the value of the assets traded, as they could acquire for a Markov rental now. If you are trading a player away only to make a trade for a similar player in the summer, it’s the tail wagging the dog, and how much have you really done to improve your team’s future?
On the other hand, the Habs are having another solid season, and could even finish second in the Atlantic Division. They are likely to make the playoffs. The fact is that very few playoff teams trade their #2 defenceman at the NHL trade deadline, and for good reason. Those that do almost never trade the #2 defenceman for picks and prospects, especially with no ready made replacement in the system. Markov is needed, in Montreal, to help the Canadiens in the playoffs.
Now of course some will argue that the Habs are not true Stanley Cup contenders and that keeping a player like Markov is pointless. Of course, Carey Price has proven to be a top goaltender, especially with what we saw in the Olympics, and a goalie can carry a team a long way if he gets hot at the right time. That said counting on such a possibility is unlikely, and I agree that the Habs are an extreme longshot to win the Stanley Cup this year. I think though we need to look at what Markov can provide, and that would be a team capable of winning a round or two in the playoffs. For young players like Alex Galchenyuk, PK Subban, Max Pacioretty (four career playoff games), Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher, Jarred Tinordi, Michael Bournival, and Nathan Beaulieu the experience of playing in the playoffs can not be understated. Facing the playoff atmosphere and pressure is important to their development and to the future of the Canadiens. One should not forget that when we talk about moving players for future assets, the development of the assets you have and letting them play in a winning environment is also an important consideration for future success.
Markov can also be an important mentor for Beaulieu and Tinordi just as he has been for Subban and Alexei Emelin as well as numerous other young defencemen during his time in Montreal.
Going forward, this team already has a number of core pieces including a franchise goalie (Carey Price), a number one Norris Caliber defenceman (Subban), a legit 35-goal forward (Pacioretty), a young star and future number one centre who justs need time before he really breaks out (Galchenyuk), a gritty spark plug (Gallagher), two young blue chip defensive prospects (Beaulieu and Tinordi) and one of the top two-way second line centres in hockey (Plekanec). While the team needs time, the core is almost in place, and surely they are a shrewd move or two away from contending. Keeping their #2 defenceman and powerplay quarterback in Markov is important to rounding out this core. Markov is not going to regress so much that he will not be able to contribute to a cup contending team in two to three years.
Now speaking of regression. There are some fans who are worried about Markov’s injury history. Well the fact is that he has not missed a game in nearly two calendar years for the Habs, playing the last 13 games of the 2011-12 season, every game last season and every game this season. There is really no reason to believe today that he is any more injury prone than any other player in the NHL.
On top of that, puck moving offensive defencemen like Markov usually age well, and due to his knee surgeries, this is a guy who has played basically two seasons less of hockey than other players the same age. That’s two years less of wear and tear on the rest of his body. Two years less of blocked shots and and absorbing hits. The concern for his health and regression is overblown. He may have lost a step, but he is effective even now. His game is very cerebral and works on outstanding positioning and passing skills. For that reason, he will certainly still be an effective player in 2 to 3 years.
So I believe that Marc Bergevin should get a deal done with Markov, and the Habs should roll out a defensive corps next season of Subban, Markov, Josh Gorges, Emelin, Tinordi, Beaulieu, and Davis Drewiskie. These seven will provide a good mix of youth and veteran leadership. Tinordi and Beaulieu can be tasked with gradly growing into a role as a top four defenceman, instead of being thrown straight to the wolves out of necessity with Markov gone.
“The General” still has a lot to give to the Montreal Canadiens. Both this season, and in the future.
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