Some Canadiens fans won’t enjoy hearing it, but there’s never been a better time for their beloved Habs to move one of their most dependable players. Because although defenseman Andrei Markov occupies a special place in the hearts of Montrealers – and rightfully so – the circumstances of both the player and the team have created a scenario in which one can argue it makes the most sense for the well-being of the franchise to trade an asset that won’t appreciate in the seasons to come.
We all know what Markov brings to the table, and the table is normally very happy about it. His panic threshold suggests the anxiety-producing part of his brain was removed at birth; he’s got elite passing and on-ice vision tools with which to work; he’s positionally sound and would instantly improve any team’s offense and power play. Most importantly, he plays a position that is the most highly sought-after of any in the NHL today.
That said, for every positive you can say about Markov, there’s a question mark that raises troubling possibilities: the 35-year-old’s well-chronicled injury woes the past half-decade; his unrestricted free agent status at the end of this season; the fact any new contract he’d sign would stay on the Canadiens’ salary cap regardless of whether he retires before it expires. As well, Montreal has challenges of their own: they have a projected $26.7 million in cap space for next season, but must sign star blueliner P.K. Subban and key center Lars Eller (both restricted free agents) to new contracts this summer. Keeping Markov around for two or three years would limit what management could do in addressing other team needs.
Now, imagine what Montreal could get for Markov. The trade market for quality defensemen this season is as thin as the excuses for continuing to keep American Idol on the air. Names such as Dan Girardi and Andrew MacDonald head the list of potential targets, but the Rangers could re-sign Girardi prior to the March 5 trade deadline and MacDonald doesn’t have Markov’s experience. Markov would vault to the top of the list and could easily be converted into a first round pick, elite prospect or combination of the two.
With Subban, Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin and youngsters Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi in tow, the Canadiens aren’t exactly hurting for blueliners, particularly left-shooting D-men such as Markov. And really, do they want to take the chance Markov’s productivity takes a huge hit in the coming years? Look at Sergei Gonchar as a good example of how this can happen: when he was 35 and playing for the Penguins, Gonchar posted an 11-goal, 50-point season. From that point on, he’s never scored more than seven goals and 37 points. Is that what you want to commit upwards of three years and $15-18 million on if you’re Habs GM Marc Bergevin? I’m not so sure.
This is not to say it will be a total disaster if Montreal chooses to retain Markov’s services. This is about short-and-long-term management. Sometimes when you’re managing risk, you have to make decisions that won’t please everyone. But the Canadiens have the organizational depth necessary to make this move. If they can’t get Markov’s name on a reasonable contract extension – reasonable in terms of money and term – there’s nothing wrong with choosing cap space and prospects rather than being forced into overcommitting.