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Managing after Markov: What is Marc Bergevin’s end game?

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Why couldn’t a lifelong Hab who refused to wear another NHL jersey come to an agreement? What is the general manager’s plan?

Vancouver Canucks v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

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.

What happened?

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;
  • 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;
  • 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).

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).

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.

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.