Andrei Markov will not be a member of the Montreal Canadiens next season, having instead signed a contract with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL. Naturally, this has sparked tremendous discussion and opinion regarding the nature of the negotiations and the state of the Habs’ blue line.
Ultimately, the question everyone circles back to is: why? Markov loved Montreal so much that he refused to consider donning the jersey of another NHL team. Marc Bergevin clearly stated on July 2 that he wanted Markov back in Montreal.
First, let’s attempt to make some educated guesses regarding where negotiations were at the start of the UFA window. On July 2, Bergevin indicated three things:
- He made competitive offers to both Alexander Radulov and Markov;
Bergevin on Markov, Radulov: "We made really, really good offers to these guys." Added that he thought those offers would get a deal done— Joey Alfieri (@joeyalfieri) July 2, 2017
- Since both offers were competitive, they were mutually exclusive, as the Canadiens had only ~$14 million in cap space available following the signing of Karl Alzner, with Alex Galchenyuk still unsigned;
"Based on their demands I can't say we'll be able to bring both back" - Marc Bergevin on Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov.— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) July 2, 2017
"First come, first served"-Bergevin à Markov et Radulov. #tvasports— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) July 2, 2017
- He believed that having Markov (and Radulov) made the team better, and no replacement was available on the open market (this statement may also imply that he does not view Jakub Jerabek as a current replacement option).
#Bergevin admits if Markov & Radulov walk, they can't be replaced by UFAs. Mentioned Hudon as a young player who'll get opportunity.— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) July 2, 2017
In addition, given that the Galchenyuk contract was settled within the week, Bergevin likely knew Galchenyuk’s approximate cap hit when he gave this press conference. Taking the Canadiens’ general manager at face value, we can surmise that the offer to Markov at this point likely lay somewhere around $4.5-5 million for one year. Any lower, and not only would the offer not be competitive with the market, but Bergevin would have been close to fitting not only Markov, but also Radulov at the $6.25 million he eventually agreed to with the Dallas Stars.
Markov’s comments at his departing conference call indicated that he was willing to accept a one-year contract. By not entertaining the notion of playing for another NHL team, he also implied that money likely wasn’t a dominant issue, as he would certainly have earned more playing in the NHL than playing in Kazan (Ak Bars, while not poor, is not capable of throwing around Kovalchukian and Datsyukian numbers like SKA Saint Petersburg).
"I was ready to stay in Montreal, I was ready and willing to sign a one-year deal. It didn't work" - Andrei Markov. Boom goes the dynamite.— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) July 27, 2017
Taken together, it seems like Markov’s position on July 27 aligned very closely to Bergevin’s on July 2.
So why could no agreement be reached?
One interesting possibility is that between then and now, Bergevin has begun to envision a big move; one that would require a significant portion of the $9 million cap space remaining, and one that would squeeze market-value Andrei Markov off the Canadiens’ roster.
This notion is supported by both Markov and Elliotte Friedman commenting that the Canadiens wanted to defer negotiations and any potential signing until September or October. It was a plan that ultimately Markov attributed as being instrumental in his departure.
Markov said he had NHL options or could have waited to September or October to see how things played out but decided to go to the KHL.— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) July 27, 2017
Get sense MON wanted to wait until Sept/Oct to see what could happen. No doubt Bergevin wants to try...something...with cap space https://t.co/KPBks2Mzjj— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 27, 2017
The unfortunate implication of this would be that Bergevin pulled his July 2 offer off the table to free up potential cap space for this scenario, then told the veteran Markov to hang around as a Plan B just in case no deal was completed. If this is the case, it is not only highly insulting towards Markov, it would be a serious potential miscalculation by the Canadiens’ general manager.
It’s possible that Bergevin (and/or Claude Julien) severely underestimates what Markov contributes to the defensive game, but this seems unlikely, as Bergevin has already admitted that a Markov replacement doesn’t exist on the open market. Given this, combined with Markov’s apparent willingness to sign a low-risk one-year contract, it would be more prudent to give up fewer assets for a Markov replacement or a Markov supplement at the trade deadline instead of during the off-season.
The “something” that Bergevin has in mind may be regarding a first-line centre. If the general manager and the coach are insistent that neither Galchenyuk nor Jonathan Drouin are centres, then this makes sense. The Canadiens would badly need a 1C in this scenario, and the only way that could be achieved right now would be through the trade market.
If Bergevin can pull off this deal for a hallmark 1C, then he would be justified in not signing Markov. The Canadiens would have addressed a gap plaguing them for a decade, and Markov’s loss could be mitigated by the assembly of an elite offensive unit.
If he can’t, he will have gambled and lost, weakening the Canadiens’ blue line by a not insignificant amount with no counterbalance.
If he can’t land a centre and still refuses to consider Galchenyuk and/or Drouin in the middle, then he will be entering a season in which the team has its eye on a playoff run with two glaring holes in the roster’s composition.