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It has been an eventful few days around the National Hockey League, with the announcement of a new All-Star game format, Sean Avery’s antics against the Oilers and Colin Campbell’s e-mail controversy. However, for Habs fans, Andrei Markov’s latest injury was the main topic on their minds. As such, in this edition of ATB we contemplate the Russian blueliner’s injury and what it means for his future with the club.

In browsing through the various comments on the subject, the following exchange between three of our board members offers an insightful overview of the different opinions and concerns about Montreal’s oft injured defender. First off, The Chicoutimi Cucumber questions how this most recent injury will impact negotiations between the Canadiens and Andrei Markov, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer: ” From a sheer, mercenary hockey standpoint, it really does raise serious questions about the future. First, he has to be classified as injury-prone at this point, so that affects your decision to invest in him or not. Second, I’m no doctor, but that’s a LOT of repeated catastrophic damage to the knee of an aging hockey player. Even if he comes back after, say, a year’s worth of re-habbing and re-conditioning, he may never be the same player – potentially due to either age or injury or a baleful combination of both. I can see the case for giving him a short-term deal, but if there are longer-term options available (e.g., Kaberle), we should probably go in that direction instead.”

In contrast to the above, Wamsley01 feels that Markov’s repeated knee problems would not affect his game too dramatically: ” Even when he loses a step he will still be able to thread the needle on the PP or sneak in backdoor. His instincts, vision and intelligence will not be compromised. He is not a physical defender or an over aggressive defender who relies on his skating ability to recover from his mistakes. He is an intelligent player who relies on angles to stop the opposition.”

Finally, JoeLassister provides a word of caution regarding the notion of extending Markov a one-year contract offer “ Another question is : When do we sign him ? How long do we wait after July 1st ?? There is always a risk that a team would go “crazy” enough and shoot a 4,5M$ offer for several years à la Jeff Finger.”

In short, this latest injury puts Andrei Markov’s upcoming contract negotiations in a whole new frame. What was once a relatively durable player who could be counted to play at least over 60 games is now one who can barely finish a season.

While the one year contract option seems most logical at this point, the point raised by JoeLassister is a valid one. If, for some reason, Montreal is not comfortable signing Markov before July 1st or if the blueliner wishes to test the free agent waters, the Habs then run the risk of losing one of their best players. Of course, there is no indication the new Canadian citizen wishes to play anywhere else, but with Montreal already saddled with many long-term deals and a big cap headache in Scott Gomez, it would be perfectly reasonable for Pierre Gauthier to make a short-term offer. Conversely, Markov may be looking for extra security precisely because of his deteriorating health and, if he got an impressive offer from another squad, he may seriously consider it.

As for the knee problems not overly negating Markov’s skills, there is some truth to that point. After all, Markov’s game has never really been speed or physicality. Nevertheless, repeated injuries could seriously dampen his abilities and, perhaps more importantly, make him more hesitant to get involved in certain game situations. After all, injuries do get to your head.

That’s all for this week’s ATB. Until next time, see you on the boards.

Louis Moustakas can be reached for comments, questions, cross-checks and, of course, fan-mail at [email protected]