Is the Cup Dream Over Without Markov?

Sportsnet is reporting Markov is gone for the playoffs with an ACL tear.

The Globe is reporting it as well.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov suffered a torn ACL and will be out indefinitely, Sportsnet can confirm.

Markov was injured in Game 1 of the series against Pittsburgh after a check from Penguins forward Matt Cooke. The team sent Markov home for evaluation and was listed as day-to-day.

Markov missed 35 games with a lacerated tendon in his foot at the start of the year. In eight playoff games this spring Markov has four assists.

Markov_hurt_medium

In late March behindthenethockey.com questioned the value of Markov to the Montreal Canadiens.

While Markov is a good player, he is not this good.  If we attribute all of the improvement to Markov, that would make him worth more than 11 wins, which has a value in excess of $25M.  It's not clear that any NHL player has even been worth that much, even in his best season - more reasonable estimates put Markov at 3-4 wins over an entire season, or 1.5-2 in half of this season

Gabriel Desjardins statistical analysis puts his value at 3-4 wins over an 82 game season. I am a big fan of using statistics to help understand the game, but with Markov missing 61 games over the last 5 season and the Canadiens possibly losing Markov for the remainder of the playoffs I decided to go over the Canadiens record during that time period to determine how his absence actually affected the Canadiens during this time.

First step was double checking the Canadiens roster to assure that missing players like Kovalev, Gomez, Koivu and Plekanec did not dramatically alter the results.

Saku Koivu - 22/24 games

Alex Kovalev - 21/24 games

Tomas Plekanec - 59/61 games

Scott Gomez - 33/37 games

Roman Hamrlik - 40/41 games

Mark Streit - 17/20 games

Mike Cammalleri - 35/37 games

Brian Gionta - 20/37 games

The only player who missed a significant amount of time was Brian Gionta. Although GIonta is a signifcant loss, it doesn't address the fact that before 2010 the Canadiens record without Markov was 5-13-2.

Markov_record_medium

Since the lockout ended the Canadiens have lived and died with the health of Andrei Markov. Without him, their record resembles a lottery team, with him they are a Stanley Cup contender. During Markov's absence the Canadiens continually struggled to win games in regulation registering only 11 regulation wins in 61 games played, an abysmal 18%. With a healthy Markov that number jumps to 43% with 143 wins in 349 games. The Canadiens also lost close to 60% of their games in regulation without Markov (35 of 61) while losing only 115 of 349 games for only 33% of games he starts.

This is a stark contrast to the 3-4 games that the statistical analysis would suggest. Is the statistical analysis way off? On the surface, the Canadiens record would suggest just that, but with a number with that great a contrast I decided to delve a little deeper and looked into the strength of the Canadiens schedule.

Out of the 61 games played without Markov, the Canadiens faced 25 teams with a .609+ winning percentage (100+ pt team), 13 games against .548+ winning percentage (90+ pt team) and only 11 of the 61 were against teams below .500. To put the difficulty of the schedule without Markov in perspective, during the last two seasons, the Canadiens have faced 45 teams with 100+ points or 27% of their schedule, during the 61 games without him that number jumped to 41%. Considering the Canadiens sub .500 record against these teams, the expectation should be a lower winning percentage. The same holds true for the lack of games against the bottom feeders with the Canadiens only facing 18% of their schedule against them as opposed to the 25% they have faced over the last two regular seasons. Also significant when you factor in their close to .700 winning percentage against that quality of opposition.

This could explain the extreme difference in the Canadiens won/loss record without Markov, but with close to half of these scheduled games against teams beneath them in the standings, the Canadiens should have been able to perform better than a lottery team. Looking at these factors the 3-4 win projection set forth by behindthenet seems more reasonable then the 43 point differential that actually occurred.

I also decided to look into how the Canadiens performed offensively with and without Markov in the lineup.

Markov_offense_medium

We have to take into account that the numbers without Markov were likely impacted by the quality of opposition. Nonetheless the results offer such a stark contrast to the production of the Canadiens offense when he is in the lineup. With 60 more goals and almost 250 more shots it is easy to see how the offense struggles without his transition skills and his instinctive pinching ability. The powerplay is more predictable and poses less of a threat, the 4% difference does not seem as extreme as the other numbers.

What about the defense, how did it fare without the team MVP?

Markov_defense_medium

The defensive shots are up with Markov in the lineup, but everything other category suffers a slight regression. Although Markov is a strong two way defenseman, these stats show that the Canadiens largest struggle when he is out of the lineup exists on the offensive end. The biggest problem the Habs seem to run into when Markov out of the lineup is overworking Roman Hamrlik. Hamrlik is no longer the offensive player he was in the prime of his career and when he is overworked he tends to suffer a large decline in performance, I don't have the same concern in regards to Spacek because he generally takes a 2-3 week vacation every season, enough time to recover from the extra work.

With Markov's absence, players like Gill and Gorges are asked to carry a larger burden as well. I am a big fan of both, but they are lower pair defensemen and pushing them outside of their comfort zone generally leads to breakdowns.

It is also interesting to note that over the last 5 seasons, the only season in which Markov did not miss any games resulted in a 104 point season, exactly the pace the Canadiens would set with him consistently in the lineup.

Markov is irreplaceable, his importance to the Canadiens is on the same level as Sergei Gonchar, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. If you look into the team records of the following players when they were absent their teams similarly struggle.

Looking at these numbers certainly forecasts certain doom for the 2010 playoff hopes if Markov fails to return. In previous seasons I would already have a eulogy written and prepared. I don't feel that the numbers are as extreme as they would appear, but even a 2-3 game difference can be the difference between losing in the 2nd round or making the Stanley Cup FInal. With the ascension of P.K. Subban and his offensive instincts and transition ability, and if the Canadiens can get Spacek back, I believe they have the tools to bridge the gap effectively for 1-2 of the lost wins, but if Markov cannot return this season, as Benoit Brunet would say "Ayoyoe!" - it's all over but the crying.

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