I spend a great deal of my time on the internet reading about the Montreal Canadiens. One of the best parts about being a fan of a team like the Habs is that the fan base is so huge and knowledgeable that there simply isn’t a time when people aren’t talking about the team. While most of the time I find the differing viewpoints interesting, there are times when I am dumbfounded by those few who feel passionately enough to express themselves online, and yet, not passionately enough to be informed.
Over the course of the playoffs, and short post season there has been great debate in the many corners of the Habs universe about whether or not the Habs should re-sign Andrei Markov given his recent injuries. The play of James Wisniewski has accelerated the calls for the Habs’ management to walk away from the 32 year old Russian defender. The entire purpose of my post today is to show just how dumb a move that would be.
First I need to deal with the obvious. Markov has been hurt.. A lot. 2 consecutive knee surgeries to go with a freak Achilles tendon injury have completely decimated Markov’s career since 2009. If there is any apprehension among the fanbase about bringing #79 back to the club, this is certainly where it is merited. The fact is that Markov has played 52 of 164 regular season games for the Canadiens over the past two years. That is not good at all, and I can completely understand why there are those who cannot remove this factor from their view of the player.
Still, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out that it wasn’t always like this.
Since his first season with the Canadiens (which was split between the AHL and NHL) Markov has never played less than 67 Games in a season. After the lockout in 04-05, Markov played 67, 77, 82, and 78 regular season games – playing as the team’s #1 defenseman in all situations.
During those four seasons Markov happened to put up points totals of: 46, 49, 58, and 64. In 09 when Markov played only 45 games, he was on pace for another 60+ point season. So what you say? Here is a list of players and their point totals between the 05-06 season and Markov’s last full season of 08-09. For your convenience I’ve added their current contract numbers as a comparison:
Niklas Lidstrom: 271 $6.2M
Andrei Markov: 217 $5.75M
Sergei Gonchar: 209 $5.5M
Scott Neidermayer: 207 $6M (’09-’10)
Chris Pronger: 206 $7.6M ($4.921 Cap hit until 2016-17!)
Dan Boyle: 198 $6.66M
As you can see by the numbers, Andrei Markov’s contract is among the most reasonable of the group of his comparable players. Certainly more so than Chris Pronger’s 35+ contract until 2017.
If you still need proof that Andrei Markov was a MUST-sign for the Canadiens look at the graveyard of defensive partners that have played with Markov over the years that have gone on to be terribly over-priced, average at best defensemen for other teams! Rivet, Souray, Komisarek, Streit etc. How many players have lined up next to Markov and become stars only to falter once they were removed from #79’s side? Simply put, Markov makes those around him better. He’s among the league’s most under-rated defensemen – which is absolutely astounding considering he plays under the brightest lights in the sport.
In the end, Markov’s current deal which will pay him $5.75M for the next 3 seasons is one of risk and reward. If Markov is hurt yet again, then the Canadiens will be stuck paying his salary and forced to find another defenseman who can fill his skates. While the possibility exists, for a team with as deep pockets as the Canadiens, this really is no risk at all. The advantage that Montreal has over small market teams is that they can afford to take a gamble. The payoff if Markov can stay health would be incredible because when healthy Markov is a top 5 defender in the league. To pay only $5.75M for a reasonable term for his services is remarkable, and is a great signing by Pierre Gauthier.