Thank You – Merci – Andrei Markov

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It’s the new NHL. It’s a league with a hard salary cap, making trades extremely hard and complex to complete, a league which brings the business aspect of the game to a level so high, that it often comes at the expense of what team commitment used to be. Fewer players than ever finish their NHL career where it all started and to traditional hockey fans, to those who have experienced seeing the commitment between teams and players, that’s a bit of a shame. 

Andrei Markov is no different. In the “old NHL”, he would have signed with the Canadiens. But due to the business aspect of the game, with a hard cap, with Carey Price scheduled to take up $10.5 million of the team’s payroll, Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin couldn’t tie his own hands by giving in to Markov’s demands of $12 million over two years. Perhaps is it because he doesn’t feel Markov can sustain two more years at a high level, or maybe it’s to keep his options open for John Tavares, but no one can deny that the end of The General on the Habs’ blue line was a business decision.

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Habs’ fans and media have a way to make players bigger than they really are, as they have done with Mike Ribeiro, Jose Theodore, Guillaume Latendresse and Alexei Kovalev, or with P.K. Subban more recently. Contrarily however, Markov is a lot bigger than most people give him credit for. Why? Because he is a shy individual and he never liked interviews, preferring leaving the spot light to others.

But don’t be fooled. GMs around the NHL knew all along Markov’s worth. Mike Komisarek owes Markov his one and only big contract when he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Sheldon Souray looked like an All-Star playing alongside Markov while in Montreal. And the Canadiens’ powerplay was, for many years, Andrei Markov.

But all wasn’t always rosy for Markov in Montreal. He reached a low in popularity in Montreal when, in three seasons from 2008 to 2010, he played a total of 65 games due to various injuries. During that period, what drew the ire of fans and media alike is when he insisted on participating in international tournaments when he couldn’t help his own NHL team. Admittedly, I was one of them!

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It is unfortunate that he won’t be able to reach the 1,000 games plateau with the Canadiens, needing only 10 games to reach this milestone. A career of 16 seasons, he was the longest serving Montreal Canadiens, a title which he now passes to long time teammate Tomas Plekanec. The 34 year-old centre will start his 13th full season with the Canadiens and has 921 regular season’s games under his belt. The next longest serving Habs? None other than Carey Price, who will start his 11th season with the team which drafted him. Captain Max Pacioretty is next, he who will begin his 10th season wearing #67 in the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge uniform.

“I’ve never been nervous that way, even on my wedding day I wasn’t nervous that much. I had to make a very difficult decision. I will not be back with the Canadiens next season. For the past 16 years, I was proudly wearing the Habs jersey. Each and every day, I realized how lucky I was to be a part of such a great hockey organization.

I guess now it’s time to move on. It’s sad for me to leave. This organization was a big part of my life and always will be, but now I’m looking forward to new opportunities. They say that if one door closes, others will open.”

With his 572 regular seasons’ points, Markov sits in second place amongst defensemen in the long Montreal Canadiens’ history, tied with Guy Lapointe, with only the great Larry Robinson ahead of them. There is no doubt in my mind that The General’s jersey #79 should be hanging in the rafters of the Bell Centre and that he will be well deserving of a nomination into the Hall of Fame.

Some people will use his departure to crucify Bergevin and the Canadiens’ organization, claiming to those who will listen that they should have given Markov what he wanted. Those people however, sit behind a keyboard writing crap about the Habs, and don’t run a NHL team. It’s business and they know it, but controversy sells and they’re feeding on fans’ ignorance to get hits for themselves or on their web site. Fortunately, most reasonable fans can see right through it.

The Heat Is On The Canadiens

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As summer is in full strides across Canada, and as the province of British Columbia is on fire and in a state of emergency, so is Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin. And as BC is monopolizing the forces to fight their fires, let’s just say that loosing two key free agents this summer has done nothing to reassure the masses in Montreal.

The news of top-six forward Alexander Radulov and top-four defenseman Andrei Markov finding new places to play has left blatant holes in a line-up which was already trying to find ways to add offense, let alone lose some. Yes, the arrival of Jonathan Drouin will help in that department but some will say that it’s a lateral move at best with Radulov gone.

Bergevin, as he has accustomed us to, has taken a gamble on a player when he signed a low-risk, possibly high-reward player in Ales Hemsky, who played his junior hockey in Gatineau, at only $1 million for one year. Hemsky was held to 15 games last year with Dallas after having hip surgery, and managed four goals and seven points.

https://www.nhl.com/canadiens/video/embed/conference-call-hemsky/t-277437414/c-52384903?autostart=false

Desperation mode?

It’s no secret that most teams, most years, make their big moves, their big changes at the June NHL Draft and in early July during free agency. Most GMs around the league take the month of August off after a long year of wheeling and dealing, and rest until training camp to see how they have faired in the early part of summer. But Marc Bergevin is not most GMs. As a matter of fact, he has been tagged by everyone and anyone around the NHL as a work horse, someone with his fingers everywhere… and just a few days ago, Sportsnet analyst and NHL insider Elliotte Friedman had this to say, on the NHL Network:

“I think that Markov was asked to wait until September or October. I get the impression that you’ve got Marc Bergevin sitting here with a lot of cap space and I think he’s sitting on something, or some ideas. And I’m not necessarily saying that he’s going to do something big, but I think he’s dreaming big.”

Bergevin does have around $8.5 million available to him in cap space and allow me to guess that it’s not because team President and owner Geoff Molson told him not to spend to the cap. Personally, I think that he’s playing a game a chicken with a couple of GMs who, by the way, are seeing fewer teams having the cap space to complete a trade with them. While those teams had the big part of the bat (pardon the baseball expression), the roles are now reversed.

We’ve touched on it before but fans (and media) wishing for the Canadiens to make an offer-sheet to a restricted free agent are holding on to a thought that’s not even being considered by Bergevin. So this only leaves the trade option at this point.

If Joe Sakic is serious about wanting to improve his team by trading away Matt Duchene, he will have to do so before the start of the season. Now Bergevin might have the money to spend, but they might not have the young defenseman that the Avalanche are looking for in return. Further, Duchene doesn’t have a no-trade clause on his contract so Sakic could trade him anywhere he wants to, without restrictions. For those reasons, the odds of Montreal getting him are rather slim.

One guy who I’m quite high on is Edmonton Oilers’ former first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. True that he hasn’t put up the numbers of a first pick. Also true that he was often injured in the first part of his career, which should affect the asking price. But he has since put some meat on his bones, weighing in at 196 lbs. If you watched the Oilers in the playoffs last year, you will have also noticed that he was very gritty, not afraid to get his nose dirty, and that coach Todd McLellan was using him in all situations, including when trailing behind at the end of games to get the tying goal. But the Oilers have signed Connor McDavid to a lot of money and they will have to do the same with Leon Draisaitl, who is a natural centre in spite of having played the wing more often than not so far. I still feel like a deal based on RNH and Brendan Gallagher (add here or there) makes a lot of sense for both teams.

There have been other names being thrown out there, like declining Philadelphia Flyers Claude Giroux, who has a NMC and another 5 years to his contract with a cap hit of $8.25 million per season. That’s a lot of money for a guy who managed 58 points last season, his worst production since the 2009-10 season. Everything is possible, but unless the Flyers are willing to eat some of Giroux’s salary, it’s likely not an option that Bergevin would seriously entertain.

The Dallas Stars are tight against the cap and they do have Jason Spezza tied up for another two years at a cap hit of $7.5 million, and so are the St. Louis Blues who have Paul Stastny ($7 million for one year) as a pending UFA next year. Like Philly though, both those teams would have to eat some cap.

Here’s what Brian Wilde had to say on the Bergevin topic:

Like Wilde, I also believe that the Islanders will throw everything, including the kitchen sink, to John Tavares to keep him there. But ultimately, Tavares will want to win and I’m not convinced that Garth Snow did anything to help them do that this summer or that he is capable of building a contender. Also weighing in the balance is the team’s uncertainty, not having an arena to call their own, and star players often look for stability.

And that could very well be the reason why Bergevin categorically refused to give in to Markov’s two-year contract demands. Knowing that he will have to pay Carey Price in two years, he didn’t want to tie his own hands with a 38 year-old for that extra season when a player like Tavares could come into play. Will he be able to manage to lure him to Montreal? Who knows? There will be a herd of teams, the Maple Leafs included, who will do everything in their power to get him but by deliberately choosing not to give Markov the extra year at $5-6 million, and with Tomas Plekanec‘s contract coming to an end, Bergevin is leaving himself room in the event that Tavares considers joining Team Canada teammates Price and Shea Weber as an option.

One thing is for sure though: if Bergevin start the season with the current roster, he will have failed, in my opinion, on what I was expecting from him during this off-season. Yes, this team is good enough to make the playoffs, but they will have to win games 2-1 and 3-2 and will rely heavily on Price and a pretty strong core of defensively responsible defensemen. Bergevin told us to expect the unexpected. I was expecting him to improve the offense. He hasn’t done that so I guess I didn’t expect the unexpected… but there is still time. Either way though, you won’t see me give up my allegiance to the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge like some have done in the past year or so, and I know that most of you are with me on that one. Go Habs Go!