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.

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Another Key Summer for Habs Bergevin

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Those waiting or hoping for Marc Bergevin to be fired better prepare to, once again, be disappointed. The fact is that he is an excellent general manager, one who, unlike mortal fans and media members who are not occupying the position, has the ability to take a step back to truly analyse his team and its needs as opposed to making key decisions emotionally. This is a quality that he shares with the best in the business, regardless of the sport. Geoff Molson and Serge Savard did their homework before hiring him and the team President is nowhere close to giving up on his GM.

To those claiming high and loud that Bergevin doesn’t get it, claiming that the organisation is relying too much on Carey Price instead of addressing the team’s lack of offense are totally mistaken. Those people simply refuse to see the reality as back in July, Bergevin tried to get Milan Lucic and Justin Williams. Because those players chose to sign elsewhere doesn’t speak on Bergevin, but rather to the fact that in their decision making, the targeting players were free agents and could sign where ever they wanted to, all things considered. And while they will try to convince you otherwise. the same media personalities complaining today about Bergevin’s lack of action are a big part of the reason why those players chose other locations to play instead of coming into this hot bed.

Bergevin did land the biggest UFA from last summer’s market in Alexander Radulov and few would argue that it was a bad deal. The irony however is that some of them complain that he will cost the Canadiens a lot of money as a UFA now, but those people where the same comparing Radulov to Alexander Semin when Bergevin signed him. Get the drift and the pattern here?

Bergevin also signed prospect Artturi Lehkonen and in spite of a not so convincing training camp, decided to keep him in Montreal instead of sending him back to Europe for one more year, only to see the young Finnish player ending the season with 18 goals and being one of the Canadiens’ most dominant forwards in the playoffs against the Rangers, collecting two goals and four points in those six games.

The one sarcastically nicknames “Bargain-bin” also completed one of the most important and gutsy trade in Canadiens’ history when he sent P.K. Subban to Nashville for one of the league’s top shutdown defenseman in Shea Weber. How did that work out? Weber finished the season with 17 regular season’s goals, which is 11 more than Subban a year ago, while always playing against the opposition’s top line. He added three more points in the playoffs and beat Henrik Lundqvist three times, but not the post unfortunately, which could have turned this series around. He was also a team best plus -1 during the playoffs.

Contentious issues

In their season’s end press conference, Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien acknowledged having met with every player earlier that day. Some players will be back, others likely won’t. The NHL expansion draft will play a role as the Canadiens must submit a list to the league of the players they wish to protect, and one player will be picked by the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

A few other player-personnel decisions will have to be taken by management prior to determining the next actions needing to be taken by Bergevin and his team.

Galchenyuk

Like his predecessor Michel Therrien, Claude Julien recognized that Alex Galchenyuk simply isn’t ready to play the position everyone wants him to play: number one centre.

“Ideally, we would love to have him play center. Ideally. But, I think he realizes the same thing we realize right now. As a centerman, it’s one of the toughest jobs there is because you’ve got to be all over the ice and you’ve got to be able to skate. You’ve got to be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage. He needs to work to get to that stage,” said Julien. “As we speak, we have to put a guy in a position where he’s going to help himself and he’s going to help the team. Right now, the No. 1 center job, he wasn’t ready for it. It would have hurt his development and it would have hurt us as a team.”

Bergevin was direct in his comments about the 23 year old, who had a very rough season to his standards.

“We had a good meeting with Alex this morning. He knows he has things to learn to become the kind of centerman he’d like to be and we’d like him to be. For now, for his short-term future, the best place for him to help the team is at the wing,” said Bergevin, who believes the 2016-17 season could prove beneficial for Galchenyuk in the long run. “He’s conscious of the deficiencies in his game. He’s ready to work. This year really opened his eyes…Hopefully, he took one step back this year to take two forward next year. That’s what we hope.”

As I predicted on the podcast of Hockey Sans Limites prior to the playoffs, I have a feeling that Galchenyuk will not be in the Canadiens’ line-up comes September. It will not be the type of trade to “get rid” of him, but rather a hockey trade, a big trade like the Subban-Weber trade of last summer. The Canadiens might have run out of patience with their young prospect, changing their mind on his potential.

Beaulieu

Another player who might have run out of favours in Montreal is Nathan Beaulieu. The 24 year old defenseman seems to be making more noise off the ice than he is on ice and that is something that this organisation has always frowned upon. While Bergevin won’t come out to say it out loud, it seems like Beaulieu might have played his last game in a Habs’ uniform if the team can get a good return for him.

“Nathan has a lot of potential, but at the end of the day, the player has to take responsibility for himself…Why is it that a player plays six good games, but then has trouble in the next 12. Is it a mental thing?” mentioned Bergevin. “Nathan is at a crossroads in his career. Are we throwing in the towel in his case? No, but time is a factor in his case.”

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Jakub Jerabek

And the recent signing of Czech defenseman Jakub Jerabek seems to pave the way out for Beaulieu and a trade is likely to happen prior to the expansion draft as the Canadiens would have to choose between he and Jordie Benn for the last spot on their protection list, behind Shea Weber and Jeff Petry (NTC).

On a side note, it was interesting to read on Canadiens.com that former Habs Jaroslav Spacek had something to do with Jerabek’s development and his decision to sign in Montreal.

Plekanec

With a couple of bad seasons under his belt and even with decent playoffs this year, there is little chance that the Canadiens will protect Tomas Plekanec for the expansion draft. But with one year left to his contract paying him $6 million, there is no guarantee that the Golden Knights will even entertain picking him up.

If they don’t, it is questionable to think that any team would want him in a trade unless the Canadiens are willing to keep some of his salary, which is aways a possibility. Still, with Galchenyuk unable to take the step as a centre, the team might be forced to keep Plekanec as they are already thin at that position to start with.

Gallagher’s hand

Those who know me know that I try to stay away from scoops but I will make an exception this one time. I was told, from a rock hard source, that Brendan Gallagher‘s hand is in really bad shape and that it is unlikely to get better… ever. This explains his lack of production this season as I am told that he can’t shoot the puck like he used to.

As we have seen in the first round against the Rangers, he can still be effective by playing his in-your-face type of hockey but to expect him to return to being a 20-25 goals scorer might be a bit farfetched. I think that his job is safe for next year but I have been wrong before… just ask my wife.

 

This summer promises to be just as interesting as last year for the Canadiens and their fans and most people seem to agree that Bergevin is playing big with his decisions. Many have yet to digest the Subban trade and have a vendetta against Bergevin for that reason. If he was to trade Galchenyuk and Beaulieu and not improve the team, pitch forks and lanterns will be out in the witch hunt for the GM’s head, you can rest assured.

But as he has done most times, something tells me that Bergevin will come out the winner in improving the team, the same way he has done all but one season so far at the helm of the most storied franchise in the NHL. Go Habs Go!