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The captains who never were: What's in store for Plekanec and Markov this season

Tomas Plekanec is entering a contract year, and Andrei Markov is one year removed from doing the same. After a meagre playoff showing, what could be in store for the Habs' two longest-serving players?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The storyline in Montreal these past few years has been one of change and renewal, as the reins of the franchise have been gradually relinquished to its younger stars.

Boasting an elite player in each area of the ice – Price in goal, Subban on defence, and Pacioretty up front – the Habs have reaped the benefits of a move towards youthfulness. And with that youth now pushing into its prime, the Canadiens stand poised as Canada’s best team two years running with a third apparent upon the horizon.

The team’s two longest-serving members, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov, have seen a lot in their twenty-plus combined years with the organization. They’ve seen the team in the league basement and then gotten as close as two wins from the Stanley Cup final.

Photo credit: @MimicoHero

And although Markov was around for Jose Theodore’s Hart-and-Vezina year, it couldn’t have felt much like Price’s statement season last year, when the man from Anahim Lake so loudly announced his candidacy for Best Player in the World. It’s easy to make the argument that neither Plekanec or Markov has been on a Montreal team quite this good before.

Plekanec is in a contract year, and as an aging but consistent and versatile forward, his name is bound to come up in trade talks. It has before; he’s no stranger to it.

Yet the man that made the hockey turtleneck famous (though no more popular) is forever unfazed. He’ll go about his business as he always does, scoring twenty-some goals with the same quiet determination that made him a perennially under appreciated forward to begin with. But after a questionable showing in the playoffs which saw him boast only one goal and four points over twelve games, Plekanec has allowed a case for management to trade him before the year is out.

I wouldn’t make the argument that the Canadiens have a logjam at centre – I think the move to make is to put Desharnais on Eller’s wing and move Galchenyuk back to the middle. However, if the Canadiens’ brass is adamant that Desharnais is a centreman, then another option involves moving Galchenyuk to centre by trading Plekanec for a scoring winger, particularly if the Semin or Kassian experiments end in failure.

Photo credit: @MimicoHero

Although Plekanec will remain relatively mum on negotiations, Andrei Markov shuns the spotlight so vehemently that he makes Plekanec look like the gregarious Subban by comparison.

Markov’s missteps in the playoffs last year were evidence of his advancing years, and although he enjoyed another 50-point regular season, one can’t help but wonder how many years the player affectionately known as the General has left in him. The addition of Jeff Petry and the emergence of Nathan Beaulieu - both capable puck-moving defenders - will help to alleviate the strain on Markov, but the nonetheless the signs are there: each approaching year threatens to be the one that shows Markov isn’t the player he once was.

Although he’s signed through the end of the 2016-2017 season, Markov could potentially be moved for more value sooner; but is that a fitting end to the old soldier’s illustrious Montreal career?

In his upcoming contract year Plekanec will say ad infinitum that hockey is a business, and that negotiations are secondary to what takes place on the ice. He’s saying it already. There’s a brutality to that business that outstrips anything that takes between the boards, and the consideration that longtime leaders like Markov and Plekanec might someday don another team’s crest is emblematic of that violence.

Of course, for now, the captainless Canadiens don’t have to look at these players or their impending contract or trade talks as a problem.

All they have to do is go into the season and try to win games; the relative success of last season and the leadership of Carey Price means the vacant captaincy isn’t a glaring issue, and the veteran duo’s undiminished playing capacity – in the regular season, at least - means there is no need to hurry their potential exit.

The old adage is that winning cures everything, and it certainly forgives age; but the question remains as to how much winning is necessary to make such allowances.