With defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov forming one of the more potent defensive duos in the NHL this season, it stands to reason that the Montreal Canadiens will want to retain both pending free agents come the end of 2013-14. It’s, however, much more complicated than that.
With 43 points between them entering Saturday night, Subban (24 points) and Markov (19 points) trail only the Chicago Blackhawks (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; 50) and St. Louis Blues (Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester; 44) in terms of points by two defensemen.
So, there is definite chemistry there. And, to his credit, Markov has rebounded quite well from a subpar season last year when he appeared much slower than in years past due to countless knee surgeries (on both legs).
With Markov set to become an unrestricted free agent next July 1 (Subban will be restricted), the Habs now have a difficult decision to make. Seeing as the team has established itself as a legitimate playoff contender, trading the Russian defenseman at the deadline is clearly out of the question. He’s too valuable to the Habs’ playoff hopes to even consider moving.
It’s that same value to the team, though, that ironically may see him not return to the team next year.
At 35 years of age, Markov only has so many years left, not all of them likely good. He will no doubt still command close to if not the entire $5.75 million salary he makes currently on the open market. The question then becomes, though, will he get it from Montreal? It just may not be in the cards.
The salary cap is set to increase to $71 million next season. The Habs are already close to the current $64.3 million cap, and younger players like Lars Eller, Raphael Diaz and, oh yeah, Subban himself are all set to become free agents and deserving of raises.
Subban, after winning the Norris Memorial Trophy last year, will alone command a great deal of that extra $7 million in space the Habs are getting (if not all of it). As a result, things are going to get pretty tight.
That isn’t to say it would be impossible to keep Markov and those three. With captain Brian Gionta ($5 million) unlikely to be re-signed, at least not at the salary he’s currently making, there will be some room with which to work. However, with Davis Drewiske, Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges already set to come back, there just may not be room on the roster.
One must also take into account farmhands Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi making a push to stay with the Habs for good out of training camp next season. This is all also under the assumption that the Habs decide not to re-sign Francis Bouillon and the increasingly valuable Douglas Murray on top of that.
There was a time when one couldn’t conceive of a Habs team without Markov. He has been a core member of this team for most if not all of his 13 seasons overall here, and he was always management’s first choice when forced to make a decision between two defensemen.
Back in the summer of 2007, general manager Bob Gainey re-signed him and left Sheldon Souray—who had just enjoyed a career year, scoring 15 more points than Markov and 64 total—for the Edmonton Oilers and ultimately the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
For obvious reasons, that ended up being the right decision.
Four years later, the Habs chose Markov again, this time over James Wisniewski—although, if we’re being honest, that might have had more to do with the other option being Wisniewski.
Markov was, after all, just coming off two injury-plagued seasons in which he only laced up his skates for 45 games (2009-10) and then just seven games (2010-11). And still the Habs gave him the same $5.75 million per year over three years—OK, equal parts being that the other option was Wisniewski and the fact that Pierre Gauthier was the Habs GM at the time.
With Markov playing just 13 games the following season (shocker), that re-signing may not have worked out nearly as great as the first time around. But here we are in much the same position, only with Markov’s role essentially reversed. If it comes down to it, the Habs will obviously choose Subban. It won’t even be close.
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However, that this is even a debate worth having is evidence of how far Markov has bounced back in just a single season in addition to what he means to this organization and its fans.
Markov ending his career in a Canadiens uniform was a concept most took for granted as being a reality. It can still happen, but him leaving is a possibility for which Habs fans must at least brace themselves for moving forward.
To answer the initial question: Yes, the Habs should undoubtedly re-sign Markov, but it’s clearly a matter of both parties being on board, and the Habs just may not have the cash to spare for which Markov will be looking. That he will most certainly get it—whether from the Habs or someone else—is in itself proof to that effect.