Habs re-sign Andrei Markov; Where Do We Go From here?
While we were all reeling from the ridiculous moves Paul Holmgren and the Philadelphia Flyers made yesterday, Montreal Canadiens GM continued his hot streak, signing another major piece of the puzzle before he hit free agency next week.
In a move that was long expected, the Habs resigned their star number one defenseman, locking up Andrei Markov for three years. The deal will pay the Voskresensk native $17.25 million, which averages out to $5.75 million a season. If that number looks at all familiar, it's because his salary is unchanged from that of his last contract, which was a four year deal.
The deal makes me especially happy, because it means my nemesis Tony Marinaro was wrong. The Team 990 host "guaranteed" that Markov's contract was for two years. He was within the ballpark for the salary, and hey, only one year off, so he does deserves some credit, but I'm allowed to gloat once in a while, right?
In any case, the important news here is obviously that a major component is locked up. Should we be happy about the move? Many fans expected Markov to take a discount because of the three season-ending injuries he suffered over the last two years (think about that one for a second), but his agent is Donny Meehan without reason. While it would have been nice to see him take that hometown / injury discount and sign at about a million dollars less a season, the truth is that the deal is completely reasonable. Look at it as a second chance. Markov has a very similar deal to the one he had four years ago, and he's still in the prime of his career, so we'll get to see if he can finally break out and become the elite defenseman we all know he can be.
In ten NHL seasons with the Canadiens, the team that drafted him 162nd overall in 1998, Markov has played 623 regular season games, registering 81 goals, 285 assists, 361 penalty minutes and a +31 differential. He has also played in fifty playoff games for the Habs, putting up 18 points in the process. Thing is, most of these stats came prior to 2009.
After two nearly injury-free years to start off his last contract, Markov suffered an injury to his left knee in April of 2009. The Canadiens were swept by the Bruins that year, so he didn't get to play a single playoff game. He was good to go for the season opener of the 2009-10 season, but a freak accident saw his ankle lacerated. The injury would require surgery, and he would miss 35 games. Markov returned right before Christmas, and didn't seem to miss a beat, putting up 34 points and a +11 in the final 45 games of the season. But in the second round of the playoffs, an awkward hit would tear his right ACL, and it would put him in the shelf for a long time, as he would have surgery to repair the tendon in September. Markov returned from this second major injury on October 30th. But he would only play seven games with the Canadiens, as less than three weeks later, he would suffer the exact same injury, an injury that would once again require surgery. Markov missed the last 65 games of the season and all seven playoff games.
Needless to say, pretty much everyone in town is a little skeptical about what Markov can bring to the table after all of this. But his pedigree prior to all these frankly freak accidents speaks for itself. Prior to 2009-10, Markov was on the cusp of being one of the best defensemen in the NHL. And I know it's a very big "if", but if he hadn't suffered all of these injuries, then I'm certain that he would be vying for the Norris trophy this year, instead of waiting to see how he will be able to come back from basically two years off next October.
So as I said, I'm fine with the deal. It doesn't handicap the Canadiens in any way, and the truth is that Markov deserves that money, and that second chance. If he's injured, then he's off the cap and the Canadiens are in some trouble to yet again find a replacement for a top defenseman. If he's healthy, but he's lost his stride, well then that's even worse. But Markov is a talent that doesn't come across a team like the Canadiens every day, and he's well worth taking a chance on. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited to see him next to Alexsei Yemelin. I feel like the two Russians will have incredible chemistry together, and Markov tends to shine next to the big, rugged, physical types of defensemen.
With this latest signing, the Canadiens now have $49.5 million committed to 10 forwards, 5 defensemen and one goaltender. They have about $15 million in cap space to sign six or seven players, which will give them some wiggle room tonight at the draft and heading into next week's free agency.
Priority number one is a deal with pending restricted free agent Josh Gorges. Gorges also missed most of the season with a knee injury, so it should be an easy deal to make even if he gets a raise. I would hope they would give him a decent term as well. It has been reported that the Habs have offered a deal to Roman Hamrlik. Yannick Weber should get one too, so that sets the defense for next year, with James Wisniewski, Paul Mara, Brent Sopel and Alexandre Picard likely heading to the market.
Up front, the Canadiens have four forwards to deal with. Ryan White and Tom Pyatt should be signed to deals under one million dollars. Jeff Halpern, the only UFA, will likely have to find a home elsewhere. Benoit Pouliot's status is anyone's guess. If I were Pierre Gauthier, I'd trade him for a pick, but for all we know he could be headed to the market as well if the Canadiens don't plan on making a qualifying offer, or he could start another year as a Hab.
The backup situation is also anyone's guess. Alex Auld didn't do much for the Canadiens, so Gauthier has several options. Resign him to play another 12 games, sign another veteran to play 10 to 15 games like Marty Turco or Brian Boucher, or promote within the organization.
Assuming everything goes according to plan, this means another $10 million against the cap for 2 defensemen, two forwards and a goalie, leaving five million in wiggle room to add depth to the forward ranks. I said it last week, and I said it again in my draft preview. This is the perfect time to make a splash. It might be a pipe dream considering who we have running this team, but the signs have never pointed more clearly to the possibility of a major acquisition via trade.
Again, we can't predict what will happen tonight. I said the Canadiens would draft Brandon Saad, a nice big winger, but the truth is I could also see them jumping up to pick someone like Sean Couturier, or frankly forgoing a first round pick entirely to make the abovementioned "big trade". The only thing that's certain is that it will be an interesting night for all, so don't forget to joint our NHL Draft Liveblog tonight at six for all the fun!