GM Marc Bergevin has
his work cut out for him in this offseason after a strong 2013-14 campaign from
the Canadiens. Not only does he have to prepare for the
upcoming draft but the club has to make decisions on the 18 players whose
contracts expire on July 1st. This is the third article of our series
discussing some of the notable pending unrestricted free agents.
Andrei Markov is the longest tenured Hab, having been part of the
organization since being drafted in 1998. The blueliner has been one of
Montreal’s top defencemen throughout his tenure and was productive again in
2013-14. He’s now 35 years of age and likely headed towards his final
contract. Will that deal be with the only NHL team Markov has ever suited
up for or will he be joining a new franchise in July?
Inside the Numbers
When healthy, Markov historically has been among the top scoring defenders in
the league and this past year was no exception. His 43 points were inside
the NHL’s top-20, in large part due to the fact that he played all but a single
game, staying healthy for a second straight season. In fact, when you add
in the playoffs and the Olympics, he played a total of 103 games. Markov
also led the Canadiens in blocked shots, finishing fourth among NHL blueliners
in that category. Unlike a lot of the Habs, his production picked up in
the final round against New York, recording half of his playoff points in that
series. However, he was exposed defensively as his lack of speed became an
Season: 81 GP, 7 goals, 36 assists, 43 points, +12 rating, 34 PIMS,
Playoffs: 17 GP, 1 goal, 9 assists, 10 points, -4 rating, 10 PIMS, 31
Argument to keep him
Markov did it all for the Habs, playing heavy minutes at 5-on-5, the
powerplay, and the penalty kill. He has also done well to at least for now
get rid of the injury prone label that plagued him for several seasons.
It’s a weak free agent market this year on the blueline and Markov is one of the
best options out there. Realistically, the odds of getting an upgrade on
him via free agency are slim to nil so why not just keep the better option in
the fold? A player like Nathan Beaulieu, who could wind up replacing
Markov down the road, is far from being ready to take on that type of role in
the near future. Markov has been loyal to the organization and has left a
bit of money on the table in the past to stay, something that could happen again
this time around.
Argument to let him go
The lasting memory for some from the Habs’ postseason run is seeing Markov
get passed on the rush somewhat regularly. He never has been the most
fleet of foot but at his age, his speed – or lack thereof – isn’t going to get
better, only worse. Even though he has been healthy the last couple of
years, there is always going to be that perceived higher level of risk with him;
Markov could be another injury away from retirement. Because he’s 35, any
multi-year contract counts as a 35+ deal meaning that if he suffers a
significant injury, he’s stuck on the cap no matter what happens (and LTIR
doesn’t solve everything, just ask Philadelphia and Chris Pronger).
As one of the top defencemen on the market, Markov isn’t going to be taking a
big pay cut as many fans hope he will. How much he gets will be affected
by the term of the contract as he’s at the age where the deal will likely be
declining in value each year. On a one year term, the money is likely to
start with a six. If it’s two years, I would expect it to be around the $6
million mark as well. If he gets the third year though, it’ll be closer to
what he made on his last two contracts, a cap hit of $5.75 M. At least
some form of no-trade protection is likely as well.
Right now, the Habs are reportedly offering one year while Markov’s seeking
three. Both sides have indicated they’d like to get a deal done and I
suspect when all is said and done, they’ll meet in the middle with a two year
deal around $6 million per year with at least a partial no-trade clause.
Most importantly, the deal will be done prior to the beginning of free agency.
If Markov insists on a three year deal, however, he’ll have to shop elsewhere to
find it first. I won’t claim that the Habs won’t give him three in the end
but I don’t see them willingly doing so until someone else is willing to give it
to him; Markov would likely give Marc Bergevin the chance to match any offer
from another team which is where this would come into play.