After tearing an ACL in last season’s playoffs, Andrei Markov finally returned to the lineup a scant seven games ago. Last night versus the Carolina Hurricanes, the Habs' best defenseman once again went down to the ice in pain with his gloves flying off, pounding the sideboards in frustration.
I can only sympathize. Like him and many other Habs fans, I’m feeling very frustrated this morning.
Markov has been down this road very recently twice before. He knows by now when his injuries are serious. Like me, he has to be wondering is what this means for his future with the Montreal Canadiens.
Next summer Markov will be an unrestricted free agent. His agent has said that the Canadiens wanted to wait a bit before opening talks, and I’m pretty sure that after last night, talks between the veteran blue-liner and Pierre Gauthier are going to the wire.
Markov may or may not be “accident prone,” but there’s really no arguing that he’s had some terrible luck the past two seasons when it comes to his health.
A fluke skate incident at the beginning of last season kept him out until December. Upon his return, he played 45 games before going down with the torn ACL. Last night’s injury was simply more of the same bad luck.
It's really gotten to the point where I pretty much expect him to sustain another major injury.
Markov has always been one of my favorite Habs. He’s a solid, hard worker blessed with fine talent and some great hockey sense. But I’m no longer convinced he’s going to make or break this team.
Last season the stats without Markov in the lineup were pretty ugly. This season, the Habs managed to win seven games without him, so I’m no longer convinced that his absence will necessarily hamstring the Habs.
This is the epitome of team now, clearly playing as a single unit, and it is a formidable asset that a lot of pundits seem to have overlooked when assessing this roster. They pick up each other’s slack, and they battle through the tougher games and opponents together.
Had Markov stayed healthy I think it’s pretty obvious that the Canadiens would have given him a raise, and he’s likely to have taken a bit of a discount in order to stay with this organization in return for some long-term job security.
Now all bets are off.
If nothing else this latest injury will likely hurt his contract value when it comes to negotiations. Montreal has hardly gotten its money’s worth out of this player last season, and it appears they won’t be getting it again this year.
Were I team general manager Pierre Gauthier, I would be reluctant to sign Markov to a long-term deal of any kind. He’s the wrong side of 30, and recurring knee-injuries are often tricky.
There’s definitely still a market to trade Markov, regardless of the injury. Veteran puck-moving defensemen are always in high demand, and even if he’s on the IR for the rest of the season Gauthier could probably find a buyer willing to gamble and part with a gem or two in return.
The problem is that the Habs really have no one in the system to do what Markov does for the money they can afford to spend right now. PK Subban is likely to pick up some of the slack, but he’s still a rookie and cannot be expected to anchor this team’s D corps in his first full season.
The best the Habs can hope for is that this injury is does not mean another half-season or more without Markov. If it is another disaster, the Canadiens will either have to hold the fort until his return or make another roster move.
If I’m Gauthier, I’m hoping for a short-term, very affordable deal where Markov stays healthy. Otherwise I’d try for a trade or let him walk and take my chances with the rest of the UFA market.
Regardless, I think any notion of a long-term cap friendly hit for Andrei Markov and the Canadiens is now unlikely. A player that was once a solid investment for the Habs is suddenly turning into a nightmare for the team’s blue line.
Of course this is all speculation right now. RDS is reporting that sources have stated Markov has re-injured his right knee, and may be out for three months. The Canadiens are saying nothing, still awaiting further test results.
But as a fan that’s what I do. I speculate. And in the morning’s cold light of day, I really don’t like any of the options I currently see on the table for the Habs and Andrei Markov.