With Andrei Markov surfacing in Montreal this week and stating his wish to return to the Habs, some are hoping that Marc Bergevin will bring back the long-time blueliner. Don’t count me among those wanting it to happen.
I thought Markov was a great defender in his prime. Even at the end of his time with Montreal, he was still pretty good although he had been slowing down by the end of each season. It was clear he was entering the twilight of his career which is why I supported Bergevin’s unwillingness to commit multiple years to Markov two summers ago. One would have been okay but by the end of that second, he’d have been running on fumes.
That’s pretty much exactly what happened in Russia. In the first half of his first season there, he was quite productive offensively. But that output dropped considerably in the second half and by the playoffs, he was basically a shutdown guy. Last season, he was basically a complete non-factor offensively the entire year although he still managed to log over 21 minutes a night to his credit.
There’s a thought out there that Markov could help Montreal’s woeful power play. Three years ago, I’d have agreed with you. But this isn’t 2016-17 anymore. Markov had as many power play goals in the KHL last year as I did. He wasn’t even their real threat from the point with the man advantage. Paul Postma was their top option, a player that was on the fringes of an NHL roster just two years ago. That’s a pretty low bar to beat and Markov didn’t.
So what makes people think he’ll magically come in and help Montreal’s man advantage? They’ve shown a tendency to go with four forwards and one defender last year which means Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are getting those spots. If they go with two blueliners on one unit, Brett Kulak would be the next option and I think he has a better shot at being more productive than Markov would be.
There’s also Markov’s mobility or, more specifically, his lack of it. The Habs are all about speed and moving the puck quickly. I think Markov can still do the second part but skating quickly? Not a chance. We saw Tomas Plekanec’s lack of mobility stand out like a sore thumb last year in all of three games. Markov’s in that same boat.
Speaking of Plekanec, a popular sentiment is to let Markov play 10 games, get to 1,000, and be on his way. That’s all well and good in theory but it would take Markov being open to foregoing some guaranteed money. That’s the part that’s lost in Plekanec’s decision; he left nearly $2 million on the table (plus some possible bonus money) to do what he did. Most players wouldn’t have done so. Markov hasn’t exactly been one that’s shown a willingness to leave money on the table either in the past. Look no further than two summers ago.
Another important thing to consider is that there really isn’t room for him on the roster. Who’s he beating out? Kulak’s clearly ahead of him at this point and I would put Ben Chiarot in there as well. Victor Mete is the prohibitive favourite to start alongside Weber again next season. There are your three lefties right there and Markov is no sure-fire upgrade on any of them. Mike Reilly is also in the mix with a multi-year contract so clearly, the organization believes he’s worth an NHL roster spot still. None of those players have proven that they can shift to their off-side and asking Markov to try to do so at this stage wouldn’t be a great idea either.
I’m a believer in training camp tryouts and that generally, there aren’t any bad ones. I think going that route with Markov would be though. Let’s say he comes in and since he’s not out of gas at the beginning of the season, he does okay. Now what? He’s not quite good enough to help the team but do you sign him anyway or risk the backlash that would stem from embarrassing him by cutting him?
The Habs have enough depth defenders on the left side and at this stage of his career, that’s what Markov is (or will be very quickly in the season if history continues to repeat itself). I’m all for trying to find a way to upgrade that side of the back end as it’s clearly a weakness. If Markov actually represented an upgrade, I’d be okay with bringing him back. But he’s not. He isn’t the player he was when he last saw time in the NHL, not even close. At 40, soon to be 41 and coming off of a so-so year in the KHL, he’s a fringe player at best. They have enough of those already.
If Markov wants to retire as a Hab, that’s great. Give him a token one-day deal and a well-deserved night to honour his accomplishments. But that’s the only contract they should be giving him. If he wants to play in the NHL (or anywhere) this coming season, it should not be in Montreal.