Monday, July 26, 2010

Andrei Markov a Hab for Life? Not for me!

By Willey

Let me first start off by saying congratulations to Andrei Markov for officially becoming a Canadian Citizen. Being Canadian is a privilege and honor. Generally speaking Canadians are adored, respected and beloved worldwide and Markov personifies all of these traits to a T. So congrats to you Andrei!


After amassing 15 points in 43 games playing center for the Voskresensk Khimik, Markov was drafted 162nd overall in the sixth round of the 1998 entry draft. Despite being drafted as a center, both the Habs management and Moscow Dynamo saw more potential for Markov as a defenseman.

Very few players are able to successfully make this transition however, and Markov not only met this challenge but appeared to thrive netting 21 points in 38 games in his first season with Moscow.

He we are ten years later, and he is the longest serving current Hab and one of the most consistent and productive blue liners the team has ever had.

Since the 2006 campaign, Markov has seen his offensive production steadily increase. He has gone from the 20th most productive D-man in the NHL to 17th in 2007 to 6th in 2008 to 2nd in 2009.

Unfortunately Markov only played 40 games in 2010 otherwise we would have seen him in the top-five once again. Based on his 40 game pace, if healthy he would have finished as the third highest scoring blueliner with 62 points.

This top offensive blueliner is also the catalyst of one of the best power plays in the NHL, helping the Habs to have one of the top-five powerplay units in four of the past five seasons. This includes a stints as the No.1 ranked PP unit in both 2007 to 2008.

With this success comes a hefty price tag, however.

With a cap hit of $5.75 million per season, No.79 is the 11th highest paid d-man in the game, the second highest paid player on the team, and his contract comes to an end at the conclusion of the coming season.

So what does management do with one of the top-five offensive blueliners in the game? A player who is perhaps the best catalyst for any powerplay in the league, who can play 25-plus minutes a game and who can contain pretty much any forward in the game?

Does Pierre Gauthier offer him a contract extension? If so does he offer more money to retain his rights or do we get hometown discount? Or, do we go the unpopular route and consider trading this superstar?

Let’s be honest, there are no easy answers here.

If management decides that he should be re-signed then I, for one, will be happy.

Markov is one of those guys you simply cannot help but cheer for. He is a quiet leader who produces and gives it his all, year in and year out. He has embraced this city and our culture and the fans have reciprocated. That being said, I honestly think that the best thing for the future of the team would be to part with him right now.

Now before I get chastised for this thought process let me explain myself.

For starters, I like Markov and would love to see him retire as a Hab but the NHL is a business and sometimes in business, you have to make tough decisions.

So, with that in mind, here are the reasons I would let him go:

Reason No.1
For at least a year now, if not longer, the NHL rumour boards have been full of banter of Tomas Kaberle being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Recent rumors have the Leaf headed to Philadelphia along with a mid-level prospect in exchange for James Van Riemsdyk (JVR) and Brayden Coburn.

I’ve even heard rumours that San Jose would be willing to part with Devon Setoguchi and a pick or that Los Angeles would be willing to exchange Jack Johnson.


Kaberle is a good offensive D-man but he has never led his team to a top ranked powerplay unit, he does not play against the oppositions best and in the past five years, only one time has he finished higher than the ninth ranked offensive D-man.

So I ask you this: If Kaberle could fetch this sort of return, what could Markov get?

Reason No.2
The Habs need cap flexibility.

The team has some major gaps that still need filling but simply do not have the cap space to do so. With the exception of Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot, our top six forwards are all 5’11 or smaller and our D-core is aging and slowing.

Gauthier has accomplished much this offseason but considering how tight the Habs are against the cap, his limitations are obvious.

Trading Markov could address both the need for size and cap space.

Hmmm...what sounds better? Markov on the blueline or JVR, Coburn and still $2 million in cap space?

Reason No.3
There was fear that this team simply could not win without Mo.79 in the lineup. That fear seems to have disappeared, however.

Somehow when Markov went down to injury in the second round of 2010 Playoffs courtesy of a Matt Cooke, the team pulled together and beat the defending cup champion Penguins in seven games.

They were able to achieve this because of a total group effort. That, coupled with the insertion of the AHL All-rookie team member and President’s Award recipient, PK Subban, was able to put the Habs over the edge.

PK is destined for top minutes with the Habs in the coming season and will surely have an impact as Markov recovers from injuries.

If the Canadiens can win without him in the lineup—and with his contract still counting towards the cap—imagine what they can do with the flexibility that his trade would bring?

Reason No.4
Markov currently makes $5.75 million a season and will be a hot commodity at season's end.

Will he be looking at Phaneuf type of money? Perhaps even using Timonen as a comparable?

Each of these guys make more than $6.0 million per year and it can be argued that neither is as important to their respective team as Markov is to the Habs.

My guess is that he will be looking for an increase.

We have a hard time juggling a $5.75 million per year contract so imagine trying to do the same with a bigger cap hit?


Like I said, I know my choice will be unpopular and I know that trading a top 10 D-man in NHL can backfire.

If I'm Gauthier I'm not going out to make a deal simply for the sake of making a deal, because having Markov on the team, injured or not, is a good thing.

If, however, the Kaberle rumours are in fact true then Gauthier would be foolish not to shop No.79 because this team could look a heck of a lot deeper in all positions if we completed a transaction of this magnitude.

Imagine a roster which looked like this:




And, we'd still have more than $3 million in cap space available!

So what do you think? Keep Markov or trade him?

Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.


Gauthier has to do his due diligence and see what Markov may fetch.

But it's not so easy to let go of somebody you view as a captain, and somebody who is very clearly critical to the team's success. Sure, they toppled the Pens without him, but crumpled against the Flyers. Subban will eventually fill Markov's role (one can hope), but if Markov can get over his injury woes, he still has many good years left. He doesn't play a style that places excess stress on his body. He plays many minutes, but he's so smart that his 25 minutes are not the same as Hamrlik playing 25.

The big question is the injury troubles. It's a major sticking point. The Canadiens may not want to offer as much as other teams out of fear that he's damaged goods. Other teams won't offer as much in a trade for the same reasons. If Markov loves it so much here, let him prove it. If he can sign for well under 7 million, I'd have him stay around for another 5 years (because 5 years will be what he wants - and will get).

But Gauthier needs to wait and see how his knee feels, and how he looks once he returns. If he looks as good as he normally does, he should begin negotiations on an extension in January of 2011. What we know for sure is that the Canadiens won't give up on the playoffs and be sellers at the trade deadline. So, if the Canadiens are 7-10th in the conference, they'll fight for 8th place rather than trade Markov and their playoff hopes. Of course, that means resigning him is the last option, or you lose him for nothing. Trading rights brings back very little in return.

I've always believed that the bird in hand is worth 2 in the bush. I'd try to keep Markov at a reasonable price. If by the trade deadline he shows no desire to sign for reasonable money, should Gauthier start looking at moving him.

I would agree but to be honest would want more in return that JVR and Coburn. For a (IMO) top 10 d-men in the league possible top 5 if he can stay healthy...I would want a legit top 6 forward and a decent d-man with possibly something else thrown in. Yes that is steep but if you look at the stats and what he has done on the PP and the respect he gets around the league from the best forwards??? I like JVR but he's not a for sure...I want for sure. Habs have enough possibles...

@ Kyle

Thanks for the comments. Like yourself I consider Markov as such a crucial component to this team. As he goes so too does the PP and the success of the team.

Losing him would be an enormous void on this team for the short term on so many different levels.

I don;t want to see markov in another uniform however if these believed rumours are in fact somewhat true then Gauthier cannot simply overlook them IMO.

@ Rich

We all love Markov and I know he is important but Coburn was part of the #1 shut down pairing in Philly until the arrival of Pronger and would instantly be the #1 D-man on this team right off the top.

JVR is young and full of potential and true we do not know what will become of him. But flip this around, and ask yourself the following.

If you were a GM would you offer up say PK Subban and Lars Eller or Louis Leblanc for say Dan Boyle?

Markov is a great player but JVR is a couple years out from being the No. 2 pick and despite his young age still would have finished 5th no the Habs in points despite playing primarily 3rd and 4th line minutes.

Willey, like I said on twitter, you made me think (as usual) so I quite enjoyed this article. Not sure I agree on everything (surprise surprise), but here goes...

Agree Markov is > Kaberle and PG should probably test the waters, if for no other reason than to keep his options open. I like Coburn and JVR, so it wouldn't be a horrific trade IMO.

Even with a discount, Habs may not want to pay that kinda $ for Markov. Still, they have a lot coming off the books next season as it is, and Markov's a proven asset to the team. If he's going to be reasonable, I'd keep him. Subban's great and will help fill the void, but he's still a rookie. Can't expect him to carry Markov's load out of the gate next season.

I'm not saying to do it or not do it really. Would depend on what PG could get in return, and is it worth losing a top 5 D-man that will likely produce another 3 or 4 years (assuming he stays healthy). It's another IF for me.

It more likely that Hamrlik and or Gill will be the one to get the axe to save cap space next year after all they both are older than Markov.

You can expect Gauthier to sign Markov long term on a front loaded contract that will have cheap years in the back-end to keep the cap hit down! If it good enough for Lou and the Devils by god we should game the system too!


Thanks for hitting me back.

In a perfect world Hamrlik would be dumped right now and we'd use his cap space to sign another free agent or saved for our RFA's next season.

Unfortunately however Hamrlik has almost no trade value. Just as we want to get rid of him opposing teams equally don't want to acquire him.

Gill on the other hand is the type of guy teams want for a playoff run. Gill however at $2.5 million is not an overpayment so should we really be pushing him out the door given what he did for us this past playoff run?

I love Markov and so understand why nobody would want to part with him however he likely has the most trade value on this team. If we can lure 2 big names who are both young then holding onto him to me at least does not make sense.

Great piece, Willey! Very thought provoking.

I think moving Markov or not will have a lot to do with how the Habs do this year and how—as Kyle Roussel pointed out—he recoverers from his injury.

If the Habs go into the tank this year, and I am talking 10 or more points out of a playoff spot, then I think any smart GM has to at least look at the possibility of moving a player like Markov.

If, as I expect will be the case, this team hovers around .500 and the 8th spot in the East, I think that players like Hamr and Gill are more likely to be moved closer to the deadline.

I don't agree that Hamr has no trade value. He is a veteran and is good at working with young players. His problem, in Montreal, is that he is being leaned on too heavily for a 35 year old.

He should be playing more as a 4th - 6th d-man, and could be valubale to a contending team, if only because of the experience he brings.

That is why I feel he is one of the best candidates to be moved close to the deadline.

KP thanks.

I fully agree with your assessment on Markov. As a matter of fact I would think that at the deadline is where he'd have the most value to a team. If dealt that is likely when I would expect him to go with of course a possibility of re-signing come July 1st.

As for Hamrlik, I respectively disagree.

Yes Hamrlik does well for some younger players but at the deadline what sort of team is looking to add a depth D-man with a $5.5 price tag?

Most contending teams are right up against the cap as we speak so even at the deadline they lack the flexibility of adding this sort of salary.

The only benefit that a team would have adding him instead of say a younger more effective D-man is that the Habs would expect almost nothing in returnand in that case what would be the point of letting him go?

I firmly beleive that we either absorb the contract in the AHL (which I know won't happen) or we send him now to a team like Atlanta or the Islanders along with a mid level prospect simply for getting him off our books and in exchange for a cap unfriendly player in return.

Say something like Hamrlik and Weber to the Islanders for Witt?

Yes, but at the trade deadline, there is much less of the $5.5 mil to count against the cap, which is exactly why he could/would be traded.

Basically, the way it works is that a players contract is amortized across the season. i.e around the deadline, where approx 2/3 of the season has been played, team will only have the remaining 1/3 of his contract count against their cap for the remainder of the year = $1.815 mil.

That makes his contract much more digestable as a rental, and would probably not cost much more than a 2nd rounder.

This is why I feel that he very well could be traded by the deadline.

Gill is going to be 36 when he turn UFA it fair to say that by that time the Habs will be ready to move on. He might have great rental value at the deadline. Off course the other possibility is that they get him to sign for a cheaper long term end of career contract.
As for Hammer well nobody want him at that price point. I do agree that they might be able to move him at the deadline.


The deadline does allow for some movement but how often do we see big ticket prices with diminutive roles changing teams?

How many teams will have almost $2 million in cap space that is unused at the trade deadline that will be in need for such a rental?

I hope that Hamrlik is no longer part of this team at the deadline I just don't see it happening.

You're right, Willey. Despite his contract potentially being "more digestible" by the deadline, there are still roadblocks to moving him.

Let's see what happens!

Hey man there is always hope.
Tems like Nashville are right there every year as will be the Kings and Avalanche. Possibly the Ducks who all have the space.

There is a chance, it will just be hard as a rental.

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