So after a secretive three weeks, the Habs finally spilled the beans, Andrei Markov will undergo surgery.
The timing of the announcement couldn't have been much better for the team. Fans are riding high as the team streaks to wins, and from stats this season, it seems the team misses Markov as much as say, Glen Metropolit.
Obviously, we are not so easily swayed. Not because of 16 wins does a player of Markov's stature suddenly become expendable. And the talk of him now not being signed, talk once mad enough to have you confined, is spreading the town.
The basis for the talk is based partly on this optimism about the future. A future based on 0.930+ Carey Price and the unstoppable duo of Subban and Weber - an embarrassment of riches at the back end. It is also partly based on the notion that a player at 32 may never recover again, that a player who once had his Achilles tendon severed by a skate must be prone to these sorts of things because he injured a knee, then cam back too early and reinjured that knee.
I will hold today that Markov should be signed. I will hold that in two weeks, two months, ten months. I'll tell you why:
The value of Markov
We talk about players being irreplaceable. We probably talk about too many players in that vein. But Markov is truly irreplaceable.
He's not irreplaceable in the way that he can't be replaced in a lineup by Alexandre Picard and the team go on winning. He's not, we've proof of that. He is however irreplaceable as a single package of hockey talent. At least he is to the Habs at this time.
Markov isn't two healthy legs and a stick. He's a player who has a sense of the game that many will never possess. He's special because he thinks ahead of the rest, and the result is he makes plays look quick because of the talent. When average defenders win the puck, you often notice them quickly offload as a reaction to their surprise of winning it at all. Markov wins a puck and implements the plan he made when he anticipated winning the puck. Passes fly through gaps defenders can't close, because they didn't know there would be a gap there yet.
OK, I hyperbolise. But he's good. And the point I am really trying to make is that of his multiple talents, his thinking is the utmost.
To replace him, you can look to a short-list of talent in the NHL. To replace him realistically, you need a committee.
A Markov-sized hole
23.8% PP - 2009-10 (with Markov):
19.1% PP - 2009-10 (without Markov):
9.89 PPGON/60 (2nd among regular PP players; Brian Gionta 7.21)
2.29 PPGC/60 (1st among regular PP players; Brian Gionta 1.77)
In line-up for 36 PP goals in 45 games
On ice for 31 of those 36 goals
2.76 GF/G - 2009-10 (with Markov)
2.32 GF/G - 2009-10 (without Markov)
3.85 GFON/60 (2nd on team, behind Mike Cammalleri; Roman Hamrlik 2.90)
3.09 ESGFON/60 (1st of players with significant minutes; Roman Hamrlik 2.40)
1.1 takeaway to giveaway ratio (1st for D with a significant role; next 0.4)
40 takeaways (1st among defenders - in 45 games!)
That's only the positive argument. How about the negative, that's to say deflating the idea there's anyone who can replace him anyway, even if he never reaches his greatest heights again. Basically there would be three possible avenues: promotion, trading, signing. here they are.
Promote from within
There's real options here. There are. Subban is a great asset and plays an effective, albeit different, game to Markov. Weber's an asset too - good shot and has made strides from the defender who couldn't beat out MAB for a job.
But they're both on the team. This year. Next season, barring a major disaster (i.e., signing overpriced vets to do the same job) they are both already pencilled in. That's to say we can't use their names to replace Markov. They'd have been there as well as him. That leaves us Brendan Nash, Mathieu Carle, Frederic St. Denis, etc.
Maybe, maybe, the Habs would finally push for Emelin. That would be the best promotion left from within. Otherwise, it may have to be from outside. That means trade or free agency...
First of all, let's assume this has to be a play for someone who is the calibre of defender that Markov was. The list is quite short. Let's now try to think of teams that would give up a player like this (and why). OK, found someone.
Now tell us who the Canadiens can offer in a trade that maintains the quality of their team now and adds this player.
I won't go into to this in great depth, except to pass along the link to CapGeek's Free agents at defence for this summer.
Think replacing Koivu was hard?
Signing this Markov is the only real hope of replacing that Markov. Even with all the risks that signing an injured player entails, it's still the right thing to do.
Andrei took a reduced rate on his last contract to stay in Montreal and progressed to new heights with his play. I would say give him the value of his current deal (or maybe a slight reduction) for a single year. A single year to discover if Andrei can recover his form.
The Habs have nothing to lose with this approach. They aren't in a position to do a major revamp with the Gomez-Gionta-Cammalleri-Plekanec deals anyway. And Markov at 1/4 strength is still an asset on most teams.