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Andrei Markov contract: Worth the risk?

Andrei Markov is 35 years old, and whenever you sign a guy at that age, there's an element of risk involved. Is he worth it?

Richard Wolowicz

There's been a lot of talk about what Andrei Markov is worth since he signed a three year contract to stay with the Montreal Canadiens, paying him an average of $5.75M per year. Markov isn't quite the point producer he was in his prime years, and should be expected to put up point totals in the 40's instead of the 60's, but it seems like an obsession with his knee has seen him become underrated in the eyes of Habs fans.

A stellar season

When Markov was revealed to have received one Norris Trophy vote, a fourth place vote that likely came from his home town market, quite a few people balked. Last season when he received a first place vote, balking made sense, but Markov was a significantly better player in 2013-14 than he was in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.

Was Markov the 4th best defenseman in the NHL? No, not even close, but he did play extremely tough minutes for the Habs, with the 13th most defensive zone starts of any defenseman to play 75% of the season (62 games). In spite of that brutal deployment, Markov also finished 16th in the NHL among defensemen in Corsi for percentage relative to his team. In fact, of the 15 defensemen who put up better possession numbers relative to their team, only Jake Gardiner and Mark Giordano had tougher zone starts, and Markov outpointed Gardiner in spite of very unlucky even strength numbers.

To make this even more impressive, Markov half of his season with Alexei Emelin, who was a Douglas Murray-like 40% Corsi player without Markov as a partner, and 47.1% with him.

Markov also played the seventh most minutes in the entire NHL in 2013-14, the ninth most per game. Three defensemen Markov's age or older were in the top 60 in ice time per game, with only Brian Campbell ahead of Markov, and Zdeno Chara below him. What this means is that this level of ice time shouldn't continue for Markov, but what he was able to do shouldn't be ignored. He played in all three situations, and was a difference maker everywhere.

Injury prone

Since the end of the 2010 season, the words 'injury prone" have been following Markov around wherever he goes. That can all be traced back to his first knee injury, an awkward hit from Mikhail Grabovski that Markov took wrong, tearing a ligament in his knee with four games remaining in 2009. Including that season, the three years prior Markov had missed a total of 9 regular season games. Two to the flu, three to an unspecified lower body injury, and four to that knee injury.

He recovered in time for training camp the following year, but in the first game of the season, took an accidental skate slash along the top of the foot from Carey Price, and severed a tendon. He missed 35 games. But when he came back, he led the Canadiens into the playoffs, and an unlikely first round upset in which he was a key figure. Then, an awkward hit from Matt Cooke, and Markov tore up his other knee.

The next season his surgically repaired knee lasted just seven games before a brutal knee-on-knee from Eric Staal took him out for the rest of that year, and most of the following one. In total, he played just 20 games in two seasons, and they were tentative games.

After that stretch, it makes complete sense to think that Markov is injury prone, but since he took the time to get properly healed, he hasn't been. In fact, Markov has missed exactly zero games due to injury since his return. He was held out for one game as a precaution under Randy Cunneyworth, and rested in one of the Habs' final games once they had clinched a playoff spot last season.

Markov dealt with a series of calamitous injuries all packed together, but his knee has been beyond question for two years, and in the five seasons surrounding his injury troubles, he missed 10 games of 410. It's oft repeated that Markov is one injury away from his career being over, and if it's a right knee injury, that's true. And if it happens, the Canadiens will put him on long term injured reserve, and save every red cent of cap space he currently takes up. And if you're truly honest, what player isn't one injury away from retirement, if the injury is severe enough?

A question of value

When talking about what Markov is worth, we have to take into account what he brings to the table, and what his peers who bring a similar dynamic make. Because some of his peers have never signed deals as unrestricted free agents, those numbers may be slightly skewed, but it's worth looking at anyway. In order to do this, I'm going to take the average salary of the six players who are immediately above him, below him, and then the six players below that in a variety of statistical categories last season, and average their salaries in comparison to Markov's. Players on entry level deals or who are free agents will not be included.

Time on ice
Markov Six above Six below Next six
$5,750,000 $6,839,747 $4,762,302 $5,123,077

Markov is a huge savings over those who play more than he does, but above average in the next column due to a couple of sweet deals on players like Andy Greene and John Carlson, and P.K. Subban's forthcoming mega-deal not yet accounted for. Even if Markov drops into the 14th-19th range of defensemen in time on ice, he would still be just a hair overpaid, and that number is bound to rise during his contact. As of right now, with the minutes he's playing, he took about a $1M per year discount based on time on ice.

Point production
Markov Six above Six below Next six
$5,750,000 $4,998,077 $5,066,667 $5,279,368

Keeping in mind that Markov had a fairly unlucky season last year with a struggling Canadiens powerplay, and terrible even strength conversion, finishing 20th among defensemen in points is still quite lofty. A year ago he finished fourth in the league in defensive scoring so take this with a bit of a grain of salt. By this comparison Markov is a little bit overpaid for his point production, however based on the season he had a year earlier, the only players ton finish above him in point production averaged a cap hit of $7.4M, so this kind of thing fluctuates heavily year to year.

Relative Corsi
Markov Six above Six below Next six
$5,750,000 $4,932,222 $5,686,313 $5,284,188

Again, like in the last category, the six defensemen ranked right above Markov are slightly cheaper, which possibly signals younger defensemen taking over the top of the league right now, which is obvious when you look at dynamos like Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, and Erik Karlsson. And again, Markov is slightly more expensive than the average defender in this range, but considering he's the only player to have signed a contract this year with an increasing salary cap, that makes sense.

Taking into account the tough minutes that Markov was assigned this year, the amount he played, and his age, it's hard to believe he was able to put up the season he did. Replacing a player of his caliber is essentially impossible, and if Therrien wisely decreases his minutes a couple shifts per game, he's likely to be fresher and put up better results.

There is almost no way to argue that the Habs aren't getting fair value here, no matter what deficiencies you think Markov might have in regards to speed. If you look at other defenseman playing at his level at around the same age in Dan Boyle, Kimmo Timonen, or even Sergei Gonchar and Stephane Robidas, 39 seems to be the age where the big drop off happens, and that's an age the Canadiens don't have to worry about with this contract.

Sit back and relax, because The General is back for three more seasons to set up Subban one-timers.