Pros and Cons of Montreal Canadiens Defenseman Andrei Markov's New Contract
When Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov signed his latest three-year, $17.25 million contract, Habs fans generally rejoiced. Here was a Habs lifer, who, now 35, was going to get a realistic chance at finishing his career in Montreal.
While it's increasingly rare to see a hockey player stay in one city his entire career, one still has to put the deal in proper perspective. It’s great that Markov gets to remain a Hab, but is it great for the team?
Here are the pros and cons of Markov’s new contract.
Pro: Markov Will Likely Finish His Career as a Hab
It is somewhat special that Markov—who debuted with the Canadiens in 2000—will potentially remain in Montreal until his retirement. However, it's important not to overstate how special it is. For that reason, this pro takes the first slide.
Markov remaining a Hab his entire career is obviously not guaranteed, as a lot can change by the 2016-17 season—his last of the new contract. For example, if the Habs find themselves without a realistic shot at making the playoffs at that time, Montreal may end up trading him.
Of course, one has to believe that if the Habs find themselves in that situation, it would at least be in small part because of Markov's projected ineffectiveness at age 38, a troubling thought that leads into the first con on this list.
Con: The Contract Term
Given Markov's age, there's no denying the Habs likely wanted to sign Markov to a shorter term and a lower salary, since he'll be making the same money he did in 2007 when he was in his prime.
As great as it is that both sides have decided to remain loyal, hockey is a business, and it makes no business sense to lock up a player who has had as many knee surgeries as Markov.
Obviously, Markov is a loyal guy, and that's admirable in this day and age. However, when he’s starting to get loyalty discounts at his local orthopedic surgeon after sustaining at least two injuries to each of his knees, it’s not a good sign, especially not for his future as a Hab.
By the time 2017 rolls around, there's a good chance the Canadiens will be burying him in the lineup, scratching him altogether or—in a worst-case scenario—sending get-well-soon flowers to his hospital room after yet another knee injury.
Thankfully, that is still two full seasons away.
Pro: A Few Good Years Left
Obviously, the Habs didn't sign Markov only because of his history with the team, but also because they believe he still has some good hockey left in him. It's easy to come to the same conclusion, looking at last season and his entire body of work.
He has scored 30-plus points in eight of his 13 NHL seasons and 40-plus points in five (including 2013-14). He has twice accumulated 50 or more points, and in 2008-09 he had his best offensive campaign to date with 12 goals and 64 points. Needless to say, Markov is a remarkable talent.
While wear-and-tear has diminished his effectiveness, if there's a small chance he can get his game back to even 80 percent of where it once was, the Habs made the right move re-signing him. The key word is "if," and thankfully, all signs point to him being able to for at least a couple of years.
Despite a three-year stretch from 2009-2012 during which he only played a total of 65 regular-season games, Markov rebounded nicely, playing in 151 of 152 total games since the 2012-13 lockout.
While the post-lockout 2012-2013 season was largely a write-off from a quality-of-play standpoint as he was still finding his legs—as his original ones are clearly no longer attached to his body—he was excellent in 2013-14.
He and P.K. Subban formed one of the league's most potent offensive duos on the blue line, with Markov contributing seven goals and 43 points. If only to help bring Subban along and bridge the gap between his reign as the one of the league's true premier defensemen and now, this signing will pay huge dividends.
Con: The Salary
Speaking of Subban: The 2013 Norris Memorial Trophy winner is in line for a huge payday during the upcoming free-agency period, and the Habs' inability to get Markov's asking price down could adversely affect negotiations between the two sides.
That's not even taking how it will affect potential free-agent signings into account, with the salary cap set at just $69 million for 2014-15.
While it's true that the salary cap will be up from $64.3 million, late in 2013 it was projected to be $71 million by commissioner Gary Bettman, according to NHL.com. But even if it was set at that higher figure, it would still be a tough squeeze for Montreal.
The Habs now have $51.4 million committed to 18 players, according to Capgeek.com, with players like Lars Eller in line for a huge raise as well. And that $51.4 million is skewed downward, because it includes Nathan Beaulieu's and Jarred Tinordi's cost-effective salaries ($925,000 and $870,000 respectively).
The Markov signing makes it less likely that both (or possibly either) will make the team—all three are left-handed shots. In fact, including Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges, all five defensemen currently signed to Montreal's NHL squad are lefties, which means Bergevin has a lot of work to do.
In theory, signing Markov meant one less thing to check off his to-do list this summer. Instead, it made his life much more difficult.
Pro: Markov Still Fills a Need
There’s little doubt Markov would have gotten the same $5.75 million salary—if not more—on the open market had he decided to pursue free agency. Looking at this year’s crop of free-agent defensemen, Markov arguably ranks at the very top of the list in terms of what he can bring to a team.
As a result, one team would have overpaid for his services. It may as well have been the Canadiens. In that sense, the deal wasn't a bad one. It may have even been necessary, looking at Montreal's defensive corps.
While Markov’s defensive game has somewhat atrophied over the past few years, it’s his offensive, puck-moving skills that make him almost irreplaceable at the moment. Aside from P.K. Subban, Markov is the only full-time defenseman on the team that is an offensive threat.
Sure, Greg Pateryn scored at a half-point-per-game clip with the Hamilton Bulldogs this past year and Nathan Beaulieu’s projected to be a power-play quarterback of sorts. However, until those skills emerge at the NHL level, you never really know what you’ve got.
The deal may not be perfect—not by a long shot. However, with a general lack of young and effective offensive defensemen available this summer via free agency, it was perhaps a necessary evil. The Canadiens essentially went with the devil they know. And, boy, do they know Markov.
He’s a wizard with the puck, somewhat less so without it, a quiet leader, someone’s who’s dedicated to the organization and, now, a Montreal Canadien still.