Andrei Markov has been a huge part of the Montreal Canadiens blue line for more than ten years, and currently sits fourth all time in points by a Habs defenseman. He is just five points behind the great Doug Harvey who is a Hall of Fame member, and has his number 2 hanging in the rafters at the Bell Centre.
However, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has to very careful not to pay a veteran player for past performance. Markov had another solid season with the Habs this year, but the 35 year old is not without flaws, and is not getting any younger either. The biggest deterrent in signing Markov is that he is asking for a three year contract, and likely does not have three more good years of hockey in him.
Markov had 43 points, was excellent on the power play, and played a very underappreciated role on the Habs penalty kill all season long. He played the entire year on one of the top two defense pairings, usually with fellow Russian Alexei Emelin, and sometimes with P.K. Subban. He led the team in average time on ice with 25:14 per game, and only missed one contest all year when he was rested before the postseason began.
Markov would be extremely difficult to replace, but it is time to replace the aging veteran.
At 35 years of age, Markov is starting to lose a step and is not the same skater he was a few years ago. Part of that is due to age and part of it is due to multiple knee injuries, but the fact remains his declining skating skills will only be exploited more in the future.
His offensive game remains at a high level, but countless defensemen see their offensive skills dry up once they hit their late thirties. Just a few years ago Sergei Gonchar saw his point total drop from 50 in 62 games, to 27 in 67 games after he turned 35. Dan Boyle dropped from 67 points to 27 in 48 games, and Tomas Kaberle fell off the hockey map almost overnight.
Markov may have another productive year of hockey in him, but he is demanding a three year contract. Anything more than a one year deal is far too risky for the Canadiens right now, especially with a trio of young defensemen knocking on the door for ice time.
If there was any chance of signing Markov to an incentive laden one year deal, I would be supporting it all the way. However, if the defender goes to July 1st, plenty of teams will overpay both in salary and term for his services, so it is extremely unlikely he settles on a one year contract with the Habs.
The last thing Montreal needs is an over the hill Markov entering the last year of his contract two years from now, with Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn still waiting their turn for a bigger role on the team.
These young players may not be able to step in and immediately replace everything Markov brought to the Habs this season, but they will be better players than Markov in the near future. The Habs have plenty of options they can use while shorthanded, as Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin and Mike Weaver are very capable of handling the penalty kill. Nathan Beaulieu’s speed and passing abilities make him a natural fit with Subban on the top power play,and would help minimize the loss of Markov, while bringing much better skating to the team.
Using the money you would spend on Markov to sign a younger defenseman like Matt Niskanen or exploring trade options to find a younger top four defender would be better options that crossing your fingers that Markov will play well over the course of a three year deal. Even allowing the young players to step in and take on larger roles makes more sense for the team right now.
It would be difficult to replace Markov, but the Markov we will soon see in the future won’t be the same Markov we are used to either. Now is the time to cut ties with the veteran, rather than being stuck with an overpaid 37 year old in the a few years because he used to be a good player.