Andrei Markov is the longest tenured player with the Canadiens having been with them since being drafted in 1998. He once again played a key role this past season and is set to hit the open market next month; what type of contract will it take to keep him?
Inside the Numbers
The hope heading into the season was that Markov would ease into a lesser role. That’s how his year started but that certainly wasn’t the case at the end as he was on the top pairing with Shea Weber by the time the postseason rolled around. Despite averaging his lowest ATOI since 2011-12, his offensive numbers didn’t take a significant dip; in fact, his point-per-game average actually was slightly higher than in 2015-16 and ranked him in the top-20 overall among blueliners league-wide.
One area of his game that did change a lot compared to recent years was his shot blocking. After averaging more than two blocks a night over the past three seasons, that number dropped to under 1.2 this season. Part of that was his departure from the penalty kill when Jordie Benn was acquired but part of that was likely the coaches asking him to do it less to save some wear and tear on the body which is hardly a bad thing.
Season: 62 GP, 6 goals, 30 assists, 36 points, +18 rating, 16 PIMS, 98 shots, 39 hits, 73 blocks, 21:50 ATOI
Playoffs: 6 GP, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, -1 rating, 10 PIMS, 8 shots, 4 hits, 10 blocks, 26:09 ATOI
Argument to keep him
The talk for a while now is that the Habs need Markov until there’s a Markov replacement ready. Today, that same case can be made. Nathan Beaulieu hasn’t taken that step forward and may not even be with the team when next season starts while Mikhail Sergachev isn’t ready to step into his shoes yet. Their other options on the left side are all better served as depth players.
Markov more than held his own while playing nearly 22 minutes a game this season. Even if his ice time was to be scaled back a little bit more, that would still have him in a top four role. There aren’t many top four blueliners available on the open market this summer and the ones that are have a whole lot of questions themselves. Markov’s play has shown he has at least one more solid season left in the tank so the Habs may as well go with the one they know over an unknown.
Argument to let him go
Markov turns 39 in December and the amount of blueliners that can handle a major role at that age are few and far between. His knee injury history always has to be taken into consideration as he has typically been a slow healer; we saw that come into play with the groin muscle injury that cost him 19 games which was originally classified as a day-to-day issue.
While the other defenders in free agency have their own set of questions, they’re going to be around longer than Markov ultimately will. Montreal’s depth on the left side isn’t going to magically right itself within a year so the more prudent move may be to find someone who they can sign longer-term that has a better shot at filling a hole rather than just plugging it for another season.
If Markov was five years younger, he could command a three-to-four year deal at better than $5 million per season without much issue. He’s going to be in tough to get term or top dollar this time around, especially with the salary cap not expected to increase much.
It’s worth noting that Markov’s salary was $4.25 million this past season. That’s around where this next contract should fall (on a standard one year deal), perhaps a bit higher. He has the production to argue a higher pay day but his age will counterbalance that.
The bigger question here is does Markov prefer a two year contract at this point? If so, the second year should be able to lower the cap hit although it poses the standard 35+ risks. If a team is trying to free up as much cap space as possible for a run this year though, it’s certainly an option that will be considered.
One other possibility is a one year, incentive-laden contract. That would allow the signing team to potentially defer some of the money from bonuses to next season but there’s no guarantee that Markov would be open to that.
Markov has eschewed hitting the open market every opportunity he has had and there’s good reason to think that will happen again. He has stated he would like to remain with the Habs for the rest of his career so it doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to try to go for max dollar in free agency.
The question in this case basically comes down to term. Do they get a one year deal done or is there enough mutual interest in working out a two year agreement? I’m inclined to think the latter here, especially if they expect to lose one of Beaulieu or Benn this offseason (via expansion or trade). It’s not an ideal spot for Montreal but if Markov can hold down a second pairing role next season and a third pairing one after that, it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world.
On a one year deal that doesn’t have bonuses, Markov’s deal should come in around $4.25-$4.5 million depending on any no-trade/no-move protection. On a two year pact, the AAV should be closer to $4 million as his pay in the second season will inevitably be lower. I imagine GM Marc Bergevin and Markov will finalize a two year agreement sometime after the Expansion Draft to keep him in a Montreal uniform.