It's getting to the point where a hockey player is labelled "old" as soon as they cross into their 30's. Andrei Markov is much closer to his 40's, and still puts up impressive stats, especially given how much he is relied upon in Montreal. This year was only Markov's third complete season, and that includes the lockout year. Despite his horrific injury luck from 2010 to 2012, the rearguard has continued to be the stoic, defensively responsible, puck-moving defenceman Habs fans have grown to love.
This past season, Markov recorded 5-39-44 on his stat line, which isn't anything to sneeze at. Considering how terribly coached the power play was, and how he was shooting only 4.3% - a career low - it's not unreasonable to think that with only slightly better luck, he could have had his fourth 50-point season his year at the age of 37. Injuries to his defensive teammates also thrust more ice time to the veteran, which could have negatively affected his output.
Those 44 points were still good for 21st overall in the NHL among blueliners. There are 30 teams in the NHL, so Markov still scores like a top 2 defenceman. For assists, he was 11th best in the league, which supports his career-long reputation as a solid puck mover.
Only 38% of his points came on the man advantage, compared to 50% last year, and 48% the year prior. This means that Markov is producing even more points at even strength than he usually does.
The elder statesman of the Habs finished the year with a positive Corsi For of 50.72% at even strength, which on it's own isn't wildly impressive, but a deeper look at this should make anyone take notice. The first two months of the year saw his possession stats climb up to an incredible 55%.
When the team as a whole began to falter in December, so did Markov, and his totals began dropping steadily, rebounding upwards only in February. So, like the Canadiens, the beginning of the year was so intensely positive for Markov, that a crash which lasted two months still couldn't tank his season numbers low enough to make it a bad year. Overall, this year was very similar to the last one as far as his Corsi numbers are concerned.
All situations concerned, Markov played just shy of 24 minutes per game, which is what one would expect from a much younger player. In mid-December, Michel Therrien claimed he understood he needed to limit Markov's minutes in order to extract the most he could from his most senior player.
After that public claim, Markov's ice time stayed above 20 minutes for most games, and rose by the end of the year, thanks to injuries to Jeff Petry, P.K. Subban, and Nathan Beaulieu. He was the second most used defenceman by Therrien this season, and was actually the 25th most played defender in the entire league.
He is currently the longest tenured Habs player, having been in the lineup since 2000. He has been a staple on the power play, and a consistently reliable presence on Montreal's back end through thick and thin. When he was going through hard times in December and January, many were quick to link him to trade rumours and wish for Marc Bergevin to deal him to a cup contender.
I, for one, am glad Markov stayed with the Habs. He has said in the past he would not want to play in the NHL for any other team than the Canadiens, and it would be nice to see him end his career there.
It was rumoured that he had some off-ice issues affecting his play, and the numbers certainly support this theory. He had a poor stretch of games in which he made embarrassing turnovers, and even required his head coach to publicly defend him in mid January after fans booed and called for his dismissal.
After a few bad games, however, Markov continued being the reliable presence the Canadiens have counted on for so long. He returned to his normal game shape despite his aggressive usage and poor shooting percentage. A nearly comical string of injuries to defencemen forced him to step up, and he did.
It's logical to believe that having Markov on the squad with young players like Mark Barberio, Nathan Beaulieu, Darren Dietz, Morgan Ellis, Brett Lernout, and Greg Pateryn would set a positive example of what it takes to succeed in this city, and in fact the entire league.
This year we also witnessed Markov displaying an unusual amount of personality. He kissed P.K. Subban, he made jokes to the media, and got an Instagram account. A player usually reputed to be quiet, reserved, and aloof, showed a side of him previously unknown to the general public. It appears he is beginning to feel more at home in Montreal.
He has one year remaining on his current contract, and has proved that he still adds value to the roster. Nathan Beaulieu appears to be the closest player to being able to take over, but isn't quite there yet.
Unless Bergevin adds anyone on the blue line this summer, Markov will likely continue to be a heavy presence for the Habs next year. If he continues to perform the way he has, he could even earn himself a contract extension.
At this point Markov should be allowed to stay as long as he has a positive impact on the team and its players. As long as his salary doesn't hamper the general manager's ability to sign other players, he can remain as long as he wants.