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Markov’s Future With the Habs

While the rest of the hockey world focuses on what a Russian star will be doing in 2027, let’s focus for a few minutes on what a closer to home Russian star will be doing in 2011.

It would not be sacrilege to say that Andrei Markov belongs in the same conversation with Doug Harvey, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Chris Chelios as some of the best defensemen the team has ever had. When he’s in the lineup, the Canadiens are a drastically better team than when he’s not in the lineup. His tenure as current longest service Canadien and his undeniable skill has put him in the conversation to be the team’s next captain. Yes, Markov is without a doubt one of the franchise’s all-time best; one of the bright spots, along with Saku Koivu during some depressing years in Montreal. It should also come as no surprise that if Markov plays his entire career as a member of the Canadiens, he will have his jersey retired whether he wins a Cup or Norris trophy, or neither. Have I made my feelings on him clear? Is this enough of a disclaimer? I hope so, because some of you may not like me when you finish this article.

Markov is entering the final season on a contract that pays him a very palatable $5.75 million dollars per season. At that price, Markov is an absolute steal. Based on his numbers and abilities, he ought to be making at least $7 million dollars. Come July 1st, 2011, he’ll probably get somewhere close to that number. The question is – who will be the one to give it to him, and for how long?

Markov has suffered 3 major injuries to his lower body in the past 18 months. Maple Leafs pest Mikhail Grabovsky sent him flying in to the boards, which demolished his knee. He missed the end of the season and the sweep vs the Bruins in 08-09. To kick off the 09-10 campaign, he had his achilles nearly severed by Carey Price’s skate blade. After a shorter than expected rehab (but still too long for the Habs and their fans), he made his return and everyone thought the worst was behind him. Wrong. In the second round of the playoffs, Penguins dirtbag Matt Cooke knocked Markov off his feet and in to the boards. The awkwardness of the fall again badly messed up his knee. Don’t kid yourself, these injuries take their toll, and it doesn’t take much when you’re older than 30 to permanently lose a step. This on top of the injuries that Markov has suffered in the earlier stages of his career. These all add up and have their cumulative effects. When Markov returns from his latest setback, the microscope will be on him more than ever. Has he lost that step? Can he still keep the opposition’s top players at bay? Trust me, everyone will be watching.

So here we find ourselves today wrestling over what to do with Markov as his free agency looms. Make no mistake, until Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier says something definitive, which he won’t, this will be among the top 3 topics of conversation among Canadiens fans this year.

The pollyanna-ish hope is to give Markov a new offer and simply he’ll sign it. All indications are that he loves Montreal, and wants to play his entire career here. Sure, that sounds simple enough, but sadly it doesn’t reflect the full reality of the situation. Surprisingly, in the era of the salary cap the Canadiens tight cap situation is not the biggest factor in whether or not Markov resumes his career with the bleu-blanc-rouge.

Does he really want to be here? Would he be willing to sign a similar deal to the one that is expiring? If the answer is yes to both of those, then Markov will be back, sans doute and Habs fans everywhere should smile at their good fortune. On the flip side, if he wants to be here, but for upwards of $7 million for 5-6 years…houston, we have a problem.

It takes two to tango. Do the Canadiens want him back? He’s a good guy, a team leader and means a ton the team’s success or failure. None of those things are the issue. Do they think he’s reliable enough from a durability standpoint, considering he’s on the wrong side of 30 to continue being the team’s #1 defenseman? That’s a question none of us have the answers to, as much as we think we might. No doubt at some point this year we’ll hear a clip from the tight-lipped Gauthier that will sound an awful lot like:

“Andrei Markov is a key part of this franchise and we’d love to have him back as a part of this team going forward.”

This is nothing but canned speech. Of course they’d love to have him back…what else are they going to say?

“We think Andrei has run his course as a member of this team, and we’re going to look at trading him”. This destroys his trade potential trade value.

“We are going to let Andrei explore his options come July 1st”. This would spawn a public relations nightmare. I’ll eat my monitor if we ever hear either of those from the Canadiens.

If the Canadiens truly want Markov back, then Gauthier will need to break away from tradition and find a way to get Markov signed to an extension before the trade deadline. Why before the trade deadline? Two reasons (at least):

1) Because Gauthier cannot risk losing Markov for nothing after July 1st, 2011.

Some team will be willing and able to pay more than the Canadiens can afford for Markov, and he’s worth way too much in terms of prospects and picks to simply let walk away for nothing in return. Yes, the Canadiens will have some cap room, but not a ton of it. They can’t get carried away and start matching $7+ million dollar offers for his services on a long-term contract that will take Markov in to his late 30’s. If he has his priorities straight, Gauthier will get him signed to a reasonable long-term contract before he is wooed by teams looking to bolster their playoff chances. But as I said, the cap isn’t really the issue.

2) Avoid the inevitable distractions.

I’m aware that the Canadiens don’t typically weaken themselves at the deadline, or wave the white flag on the season, but I don’t want to hear anything from Gauthier and the Canadiens along the lines of staying status quo and negotiating when the season concludes. The hand-wringing and hair-pulling will reach fever pitch in Montreal as the season progresses if Markov remains unsigned. The media will incessantly flog this issue on the radio, on tv, in print and on the web until (and after) it is resolved. The fans will light forums, blogs and twitter ablaze with nervosity. It will be unavoidable, and such issues of this magnitude always disrupt team unity and divide fan bases.

Yes, I know. The mantra in Montreal is “playoffs-or-bust”. This mantra usually means that the Habs hang on to their assets in an attempt to ensure 8th place or better. This time its different. This is not the same as letting beloved captain Saku Koivu go for nothing. Markov is worth far more than Koivu. If Brian Burke can demand a King’s ransom for Tomas Kaberle (which, granted, has yet to be met), Gauthier can ask for a God’s ransom for Markov and be more likely to get it. This cannot be ignored. It would be downright silly and irresponsible for Gauthier to not know what he can get for Markov via trade, just in case he can’t get him signed before the deadline. Many people don’t like Gauthier already, and for him to bury his head in the sand would do nothing but stoke those fires. Every General Manager knows what his assets are worth, whether he wants to move them or not, and if he doesn’t, I’m willing to bet that his team isn’t doing very well.

At the end of the day, I believe, and hope Markov will be back as a member of the Canadiens. Pierre Gauthier has surprised me during his brief reign as General Manager, and I think he’ll do things the right way here. I can never know the answer to this, but I believe Markov wants to remain a member of the team, and Gauthier knows that he has one of the league’s top-5 defensemen in his stable. But Habs fans should absolutely prepare themselves for the possibility, however remote, that Markov be elsewhere come opening day of the 2011-2012 season. It’s a heartbreaking possibility, but one that if you aren’t prepared for it, your resulting sadness and anger will be brought on by none other than yourself. We should have all learned this lesson multiple times as free agent after free agent left Montreal for other cities in recent years. Only Plekanec’s recent signing has turned the tide. At the very least, prepare yourself for LOTS of chatter from fans who insist that Markov be traded before he walks away for nothing. It’s the nature of the beast in this town and we should all be used to it by now.

However, if Markov is not extended by March 2nd, 3 p.m. EST, I would stock up on crying towels.

Just in case.

  • http://Facebook Frankie

    I think they should give Markov 6 Million for 6 to 8 years and Cammy should be captaine
    but only time will tell when the season starts because i did not hear anything from rds or l’antichambre and i did not hear anything this summer so if you hear anything let me know
    an for Price Montreal should of kept Halak but that is my oppinion

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    That all depends on how you choose to replace him! ; )

    Everyone needs a #1 d-man, and you know what they say…”a bird in hand is worth two in the bush”.

    Thanks for the great discussion! If you have a blog of your own, be sure to drop a link where the rest of us can read!

  • DJM

    Agreed, just saying, losing a UFA isn’t as bad as it used to be. Even Markov.

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    As valuable as cap space is these days, I still think it would be massively irresponsible to let Markov slip away for nothing. That simply can’t happen.

  • DJM

    Well let’s think of this another way. Say he walks or is dealt for prospects.

    That leaves us with about 30 million in cap room to play with. Not sure whose a UFA next year, but the team could load up.

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    Well lets just hope they don’t put themselves in a situation where they have to compete with other teams for Markov’s services. The Canadiens should always have an inside track as this is his home, but of course, what we think and what Gauthier will do are two different things.

  • DJM

    Agreed, just saying that for once I think the team has the coin to get it done early… or worst case, match a silly offer late if it has to.

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    I would agree with your projections for Gorges and Markov’s future pay ranges.

    My biggest point throughout is that Gauthier really should get Markov done before the trade deadline – if he wants him back (which I can’t imagine he wouldn’t). He can’t afford the chance that Markov walks away for nothing.

    I would also agree that getting him signed for 2-4 years would be nice. I’m sure Gauthier would love to do that as well, but do you think Markov will want that? I would imagine he’d demand nothing less than 6 years. The Canadiens will have 29 million to deal with their 13 UFAs and RFAs. That should be doable considering Markov will be the only high-priced one.

    But again, get it done before it becomes a distraction!

  • DJM

    Oh I get it, but the fact is, all those RFAs are still pretty cost controlled. I mean, why is Gorges so cheap right now? Gainey saw the potential and locked him in at a low rate. Theoretically, we can do that with any of the guys showing promise and hopefully have a few more deals.

    Realistically, Gorges is a good player, but I imagine he falls in around 3 million and Markov with a few tricks and his injury history probably clocks in around 6.5. Throw in the 7 for the other guys and that’s 16-17 million. That’s 4 million in savings on defense to resign the people we need up front (but again, unless Eller wins a rookie of the year, I cannot see any huge raises there).

    I mean with that kind of money, we could always choose not to qualify Kostitsyn and even with Markov signed have the money to take a run at someone in the Kovalchuck sphere of salary. Is that a great plan? No, probably not, but the cap situation next summer is looking really, really good and the team can thus afford to give Markov a raise he deserves.

    In fact, I might even think it would make more sense to pay him more (say 7/y) for 2 to 4 years than to try and lock him up at a similar, but lower rate forever.

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    The cap is always an issue. In this case it isn’t the most pressing issue, however, that’s what I meant.

    I agree that lots of salary is coming off the books at the end of next season, but it doesn’t mean that Gauthier should immediately go out and spend it all. Many fans assume or expect that Gauthier should spend every dime he has. He can’t do that..there needs to be some sense of responsibility and looking forward to future years.

    Hamrlik’s savings will go toward paying Gorges his raise, and Markov’s, too. There should still be a little bit left after that. Gill’s 2.25 million will be a nice saving, but there are a lot of RFAs coming up as well. Unless Gauthier continues lowballing them with 1 year offers, he’ll need that money to retain some guys up front who will probably get decent raises.

    Where the cap becomes a problem with Markov is if he wants 7 million dollars a year for the next 6-8 years.

    I appreciate your comments! Keep them coming!

  • DJM


    And given the forward situation… Unless Lars Eller wins the rookie of the year, I imagine that would cover any raises any of our many forward RFAs would actually need…. and then some.

  • DJM

    You mentioned the cap is not an issue, but here contradict. I think you were right the first time.

    Gauthier has said he needs to rely on a mix of veterans and young guns to succeed in this cap world. He’s demonstrated that this summer by letting go middling veterans (Moore, Metro) and replacing them with cost guaranteed kids (Eller, Pyatt, White).

    The way the contracts fall are going to let him do the same on defense next year.

    Right now we pay veteran level contracts to Markov, Gill, Spacek and Hamrlik. Gorges is on the last year of a good contract, and O’Byrne’s over inflated entry level deal is also expiring.

    Cap wise, Hamrlik and Gill coming off the books frees up a lot of money for Gauthier to apply that same mix. I fully expect us to have three “veteran” contracts in 11-12. Markov, Gorges and Spacek. To go with three entry contracts/restricted discounts.

    O’Byrne, Subban and Weber/Carle should all clock in at less than 1 million each. On the veteran side, Spacek is just under 4 million. That’s a total of 7 million invested with Gorges and Markov to sign.

    Right now we spend roughly 21 million on defenseman for the upcoming season.

    That would leave Gauthier a staggering 14 million dollars to get Gorges and Markov signed. Even if you gave Markov 7 (which to me is the most I could see) and Gorges 4 (which is probably more than I would guess), that still leaves the team 3 million in cap savings for 11-12 on defense alone by applying Gauthier’s stated and demonstrated managerial philosophy.

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    Better late than never, Olivier! Your input is always appreciated!

    You’re right – Markov is far better than Souray, and by that logic is worth more money. Gauthier will still need to be careful though. He won’t have a ton of cap room next year to work with. The money that is freed up will go right back in to the pockets of those who are already part of the team – Markov and Gorges. It will likely mark the 2nd year in a row where the team is largely the same through free agency.

    I hope you’re accurate that Markov can play 70 games a year for the next 5 years. That would be fantastic for the Canadiens!

  • http://enattendantlesnordiques.blogspot.com/ olivier

    Late to the party, as always.

    I think he stays, and I think there will be some handwringing about the amount of dollars he gets. But Sheldon Souray he isn’t. I think those injuries are bad luck and part of Markov being confronted with the fact that he lost half a step. But guys like him (and, say, Koivu) adjusted before and will adjust again. I think he can be accounted for 70 games a year for the next 5 years, easy.

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    I think you make a good point that nobody has yet touched on. If the Canadiens defy logic and get off to a red-hot start without Markov, then I think the idea of moving him becomes a bit more realistic. But no one is considering that now because I bet most people believe the Habs will not get off to a red-hot start without him. They probably would not maintain such a start for a couple months anyhow.

  • Gabe

    I’m also on the band wagon to giving him an extension as early as possible and it may well depends on how well he plays after the injury, he’s been injured at the most important times like the playoffs, can the Habs be better off without his cap hit on our books and with Subban cap hit instead?

    If Subban plays a full NHL season this season, if the Habs do better without Markov at the beginning, it could also show maybe we can let go Markov and develop our younger prospects with some NHL ice time.

    I want Markov to finish his career as a Hab and I don’t want PG trading him too, but it all depends on Markov and a little bit on Subban. We know Subban has no problem producing in the playoff and during the regular season. So we’ll see how this goes.

    If Markov wants 7m/yr contract, then let’s go to a younger group of defensemens, we’ll still have Spacek for another year after this season ends.

  • http://www.habswatch.blogspot.com HabsWatch

    Lots of good comments on yet another top-shelf article. For Kyle, I think we called that a “Tuesday” ;)

    If the Halak move taught us anything, it’s that past performance and contribution means nothing to Pierre Gauthier. It’s all about how they think you’ll perform from here on out, so for Markov, the concern will center around whether or not the injuries will have a lasting effect.

    Looking ahead, I believe a lot of decisions, Markov included will be driven by how this team performs the first few months. With no safety net this time, if Price falters again this team will implode and we may see a situation develop where Markov may have little interest in staying anyway.

    Price finished the year with a goal support average of just 2.28 per game vs. Halak’s 2.93 so it’s classic catch-22. Price needs to make the early saves so the team can relax and open up the offense and the offense needs to open up so Price can relax.

    I hope that Markov stays and signs a fair deal but with the team’s cap situation and goaltending concerns, Gauthier may be tempted to address multiple needs if Subban is the real deal and can log top pairing minutes to conserve Hamrlik & Spacek.

    Needless to say, I’ll be interested in the return on Kaberle. And more interested if he doesn’t move… again.

  • Stevo

    What an entertaining read, both the article and the comments written.
    Kyle: Great work, generally agree with everything said. PG is so talkative and media hungry that it’s always easy to figure out what he’s about to do … *rolls eyes* … but i don’t think we can really afford to let him go. Reason i say this is that at the end of next season, we have him, Hamerlik and Gill who’s contracts are coming to an end. Gorges to but i’ll place him in the “obviously resigning with Habs” category. That said, assuming Hamerlik and Gill aren’t coming back, we are losing a lot of experience on defense, and if they want to make room for the kids, they need those veterans to help them learn the ropes.

    So i agree with @Prax when he says lets sign him sooner then later, spread the money so he makes big bucks but has a couple lower years to reduce overall cap hit. I think about 20M$ of cap is clearing at the end of next season so as Kyle said, cap not the issue.
    As everyone said, he’s always been here, he’s always shown signs of loving it here, the canadian citizenship, all seems to point in the direction of him wanting to stay here.

    @Shmitzysays, I never thought of the captaincy situation the way you put it, about how he should not get the “C” because he doesn’t need the added attention. Nailed it. Couldn’t agree more.

    If for any reason at all, he had to go, then I do agree that PG has to figure out what he can get as a return, but i feel that if it comes to that, it will have been PG’s decision and not Markov’s.

    Again, great read, c’est excellent!

  • http://www.cowhideandrubber.com Kyle

    I agree…at first I thought the Canadiens could not negotiate, but you showed me otherwise. Get Price out of the way, and then start to work on Markov and Gorges.

    I don’t think Gauthier pictures this team without Markov but there’s going to be careful balance of evaluating what he can bring over the next few years as he gets older and injuries pile up. Nobody should be kept at all costs…the cap just doesn’t allow for that anymore. If we’ve learned anything from this year’s Stanley Cup Finals, its that having a strong defense is critical. I see Markov being part of the plan if the Habs think he’s ok, and if Markov will still grant a hometown discount.

    When I referenced Plekanec, I was talking about in recent history…like 2-3 years.
    I agree 100% that he’s been a loyal soldier; there’s no reason to think he will want to go away. The only scenario in which he considers leaving is if the Canadiens think he’s wobbled and lowball him.

    PG MUST figure out what he’s worth, regardless of his intentions. If he does at some point plan to shop him, he’ll have to make a big scene out of it and generate some sort of bidding war.

    Yes, putting athletes back together in 2010 is an amazing science, but you’re never the same as before, even if you get extremely close. If the effects don’t show up immediately, they rear their ugly heads eventually. This is what makes this upcoming season so intriguing. Whether or not he’s injury prone isn’t the question…it’s how bad these injuries are going to change his game. Maybe they won’t. Maybe Markov is smart enough to adapt to his new “limitations” if there are any.

    Defensemen can stay in their prime for a long time, as they mature later than forwards. That said, as long as Markov is alone as the only horse on the Habs’ backend, he’ll always be a target. That’s another reason why Subban’s development is so important.

  • http://yvesonhabs.com/ Yves

    Good read Kyle.

    I suspect that Gauthier will opt to see just how Markov plays once he comes back from injury.

    I also suspect that they’ll offer him a contract prior to the deadline… maybe not just “offer him a contract”… but try and get him signed.

    I’ve got my microscope pointed at Gauthier.

    Best case scenario (I think)… Markov plays his career with the Habs… keeps showing us all that talent and stays healthy… signs for a little “home town discount” (but still gets a nice chunk of $$$)….. and we all live happily ever after…. with a Stanley Cup in there somewhere…..

    In reality however…. lord knows.

  • http://www.shmitzysays.wordpress.com Shmitzysays

    OK, my disclaimer: This is another great post, Kyle!
    Now, a couple things… Plekanec didn’t set the precedent on free agents sticking around, Markov did that already. In his time in the organization, he has only ever given the indication of wanting to be there for good, regardless of money. What people forget it seems — at least from No. 79’s standpoint — is he doesn’t like much limelight or attention and strangely enough he has found that in Montreal. The ever-hounding media has let him have his space for his whole career and I don’t see that changing unless the team loses its mind and gives him the ‘C’. (Sorry, but he doesn’t need the headache) So I believe he’s there to be signed if they want him.
    Now, as you mentioned, if they don’t want him (not possible) they might not make an offer but my guess is — like you said — PG will learn what there is to be offered in return and if something is just GD unbelievable then he’ll pull the trigger but I bet anything they don’t actively shop Markov with real intentions of moving him.
    The notion of the injury bug is just silly IMO. Yes, they affect the athlete and we’ll see how much this one does (though healing techniques in 2010 North American pro sports are pretty kickass) but let’s not call the guy prone to injury. One of those simply can’t count because it’s just too freak. As for the others, I lean more towards two bad-luck knee injuries but time will tell.
    I agree he is a top-5 d-man but I also think he could remain that way for another 4-5 years or more. I hope PG agrees with me because a team with Markov and Subban would be so F’n fun to watch!

  • Smalrus

    I don’t blame anything you’ve written. And I was a Markov fan long before most people were (~2002). But the fact that he’s been injured in recent seasons means he needs to explode when he’s out there — and usually he does.

    So the question is, how much can you get for a guy who only plays so many games, but when he does, he’s great? A lot, apparently. But I suppose it will depend on where Gauthier projects the long term vision for this team (and his own tenure). If he plays the defence angle, then keeping Markov a virtually any cost will be a likely move. However, if the shift goes to offence and bolstering your Cammy, your Gionta, etc, then as much as Markov has become a fanfave, he’ll be gone the way of Saku.

  • http://www.thecheckingline.com Prax

    Why do we have to wait until February or March? Why not sign him now? He’s injured, coming off 3 major lower body injuries, as you said. Sign him now to a 5-6 year extension, front loaded, but not to the point where the league would investigate, and keep him here for the rest of his career. I don’t think that today he’s worth 7 million, and based on all the indications that he likes Montreal and wants to play here (why would he become a Canadian citizen if he just thought he was leaving in a year?). So sign him to a contract that averages out to about 5-6 million, with a couple of years of 8 million and then a decreasing scale to 4-5 million in the last years, or something like that. If markov really wants to play here, they could easily get something like this done before October 7th or at the latest the day he comes back from his injury.

    There’s really no excuse not to sign him to an extension as soon as possible.

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