Hockey is not especially kind to older players, and for the good of a team, you can't always afford to keep the veterans around out of loyalty, no matter how much they're loved or respected.
Andrei Markov is 37 years old. He's had surgery on both his knees. His contract runs for one more year at $5,750,000 against the cap, and, simply put, that's a lot of red flags for most players.
The General is not most players, and as has been said by others before me, reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. At 37, he is still playing 20+ minutes a night, and except for the occasional lapse in judgment, or the breakaway opposing forward that he can't catch anymore, he's playing — and playing well — alongside P.K. Subbant some of the best players in the league.
Should he be playing that many minutes? No. Absolutely not. It's one of the many strikes against Michel Therrien that he can't seem to reduce his usage of the Markov-Subban pairing, despite the excellent play of other, younger skaters like Nathan Beaulieu and Mark Barberio.
And the worst part is, Therrien knows they need to manage Markov's ice time better, and has yet to do it. You'd think that after his abysmal playoffs last year, and really strong start this year, there would be more of an effort to play him less in order to get full value for the season. Even one as far down the drain as this one.
That being said, as obvious as it is that Markov's legs are not as young as they used to be, so too is it equally obvious that there is nothing wrong with his vision or his playmaking ability. Take his set up on Alex Galchenyuk's goal against the Los Angeles Kings, or his play in the weeks before the trade deadline.
Galchenyuk scores after a perfect pass by Markov. pic.twitter.com/AGLI0Sn6zP— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) March 3, 2016
That is not the play of a guy who's done. His shot doesn't look done either.
Markov's shot hits Pacioretty. Tie game. pic.twitter.com/dZHrkwUSvR— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) March 9, 2016
His 14th and 15th primary assists on Subban's and Alex Galchenyuk's goals against the Kings gave him the lead in five-on-five passes that directly set up a goal among defencemen in the league. His points against the Dallas Stars extended that lead even more.
Over the past three years, he is tied for second among defencemen for even-strength primary assists, with 33. His company? Victor Hedman (34), and Erik Karlsson (also 33). Not bad for an old guy on a team that has chronic scoring problems.
Markov's biggest assets are his vision and his playmaking ability, and barring some horrible, obscure injury (knock on wood; it's been a bad season), neither of those things are going to go away in the next year. With better management of his minutes and deployment, there's no reason to think that he wouldn't continue to be a valuable contributor to the club.
Markov's contributions aren't limited to the ice, either. In a franchise as storied as the Montreal Canadiens, it's not simply anyone who can find their name in the history books — and Markov's is no mere footnote.
He already stands in the company of giants. Among defencemen, the only players around him in total points have their numbers on banners in the Bell Centre rafters. He is third all time in goals (112), behind only Guy Lapointe (166) and Larry Robinson (197). He is second all time among defencemen in assists with 419, trailing only Robinson's 686. In points, again only Lapointe and Robinson eclipse him, with 572 and 883, respectively.
With three more outings he'll pass Serge Savard in games played among defencemen, and claim sole possession of third. If he plays out the rest of his contract, and continues to be as healthy as he's been in the past three years, he could well catch – and pass – Lapointe's point totals. Moreover, among all players, all time he stands alone at number ten.
Tenth all time among all Habs ever. He does not have the Stanley Cup wins that they did, but that does not make his personal achievements less impressive. He has made his mark on history, much as he has on the ice: quietly, and efficiently. Despite the injuries and the terrible teams over his tenure. Not bad for a one-time sixth-rounder with two reconstructed knees.
Andrei Markov deserves to retire a career Hab, and not just a Hab, but one of the most accomplished defencemen to ever don the bleu, blanc et rouge.