The Montreal Canadiens need to re-sign Andrei Markov

The veteran defenceman remains a pillar on the Canadiens.’ blue line

Andrei Markov’s fifth contract with the Montreal Canadiens is coming to an end, and that would leave him as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season at the age of 38.

Drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 entry draft, he is one of but a handful of players remaining active in the NHL from that draft class, alongside Francois Beauchemin, Mike Fisher, Brian Gionta, and Chris Neil.

The 1998 draft was the first for the new head of recruitment for the Canadiens (and current Ottawa Senators general manager) Pierre Dorion. He drew praise for his prize catch of three young and talented Quebecers, who obviously grabbed all the media attention obviously: Beauchemin, Mike Ribeiro, and Eric Chouinard.

Somewhat surprisingly Montreal also drafted three Russians. Andrei Bashikirov was the first and most surprising because of his age of 28. Réjean Houle, the general manager of the Canadiens, basically admitted that the plan for Bashkirov was to leave him with the Fredericton Canadiens of the AHL to help out the youngsters by providing veteran leadership. A rule at the time dictated that teams could not sign European players unless they drafted them first, so the Habs had to burn a pick on Bashkirov.

The other two were defenceman Andrei Kruchinin, who Dorion compared to Petr Svoboda in terms of mobility, but who ultimately never made it over to North America, and finally Markov, selected in the sixth round.

Dorion mentioned at the time that the Canadiens had been watching Markov for three years, but it was the first time that he was draft eligible. An amusing anecdote from the event is that Markov was in Buffalo for the draft itself, but by the sixth round he was so bored that he went out to buy some gifts for his friends and family. When his name was eventually called by the Canadiens he missed out on his on-stage moment.

Since that day he’s had an incredible career that sees him currently third in the team’s history for points by a defenceman. He will pass Guy Lapointe shortly to take over second place.

Markov would go on to play a couple more seasons in Russia after getting drafted. He was named best defenceman in the league for these two seasons. In his final season he won the championship with Moscow Dynamo, and was voted Team MVP as well.

On July 15, 2000, Houle announced that Markov had signed his first NHL contract at the age of 21: a four-year deal. He made the Canadiens right out of camp, and earned 22 points in 56 games in his rookie season, but was eventually sent down to the Quebec Citadelles of the AHL in February to get more regular ice time. There he played 11 games before getting recalled in March.

A final stint in Quebec City to finish the season also allowed him to get some playoff time once the Canadiens had failed to qualify for post-season hockey. He fully established himself with the Canadiens the following season, and has been a permanent fixture for the team over the last 16 years.

So the question now facing Marc Bergevin and Markov’s agent, former NHLer Sergei Berezin, are the following: Do the Canadiens want to re-sign Markov? If so, for how many more years? And at what value?

A look at Markov’s performance over time

For baseline information, here is his full contract history, paired with performance and utilization:

He may be older and has slowed down somewhat since his rash of injuries from 2010 to 2012, but Markov is still producing points at his career pace, which might actually be thanks to the slower, more methodical style of play he’s adopted since the injury. He had become the team’s iron man, only defaulting two games in four seasons to rest ahead of the playoffs, before missing significant action this season with a groin injury. Since that injury he has returned to full form, even taking a role on the top defensive pairing again, alongside Shea Weber.

A quick look around at options internally

When considering whether to re-sign Markov, the Habs first need to look to see if they have anyone in the system already capable of replacing his minutes and production, and the only names that come close are Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu.

Sergachev will certainly be making the jump to the NHL next season, but it’s unlikely that he will immediately make the jump to top-pairing defender, as he may require a bit more seasoning. He would actually benefit greatly from playing with Markov and learning from him.

Nathan Beaulieu also has fans hopeful that he can take the spot on the top pairing. For whatever reason he has not yet found a level of consistency with his play that is worthy of a top-two blue-liner, although of late he has been much better and shows positive signs of improvement.

Alexei Emelin is also an option by default, but doesn’t have the offensive production, nor the consistency to be considered anything more than a second- or third-pairing shutdown defenceman at this point, let alone a substitute for Markov.

While these players could all be considered. there is no internal option who has shown he can fully replace Markov in the immediate future.

A quick peak at free agency

Only one pending UFA defenceman has more points than Markov this season: Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk, currently playing for the Capitals, will be the prize pig come free agency and will certainly be able to name his terms with courting teams. It’s well known that Marc Bergevin does not overpay for players, so the odds of him throwing the bank at Shattenkirk are slim to none.

Other comparable UFA options will include Mark Streit, Dennis Wideman, Trevor Daley, and Cody Franson. I don’t think that any those options offer any significant upside over Markov. It looks like free agency will not help in replacing Markov’s time and production.

What is fair market value for Markov?

Age-wise, the following defenceman are comparable to Markov:

  • Francois Beauchemin (36 years old, $4,500,000, 15 points this season)
  • Kevin Bieksa (35 years old, $4,000,000, 11 points)/

Markov has clearly outplayed them so far this season, so therefore a contract in the $5,000,000 range is not an unreasonable expectation. Given that Markov’s cap hit of $5,750,000 varies greatly from his actual salary of $4,250,000 this season, perhaps there will be room to negotiate a slightly lower number than he’s been accustomed to.

Production-wise, the following defencemen are comparable to Markov (4 goals, 28 assists):

  • Tyson Barrie ($5,500,000, 6 goals, 27 assists)
  • Colton Parayko ($925,000 [ELC], 4 goals, 28 assists)
  • Kris Letang ($7,250,000, 5 goals, 29 assists)
  • Keith Yandle ($6,350,000, 4 goals, 31 assists)
  • Matt Niskanen ($5,750,000, 4 goals, 32 assists)/

This would bring Markov’s value higher, however taking into consideration that these are all recently signed, longer-term deals for younger players at their peak, one would have to again skew the figures lower when looking at Markov’s value.

If I were to guess on Markov’s market value, it would be within a range of a few hundred thousand on either side of $5,000,000.

How much can the Canadiens absorb under the cap?

The NHL salary cap is estimated to be around $76 million next season. Here is what a potential line-up with already signed players could look like next year, and the cap space the Canadiens are committing to it.

The Canadiens, according to this scenario, would have about $53 million committed to 17 players, and around $23 million to re-sign four key free agents, notably Alexander Radulov, Alex Galchenyuk, Beaulieu, and finally Markov.

If we are to guess that Radulov can fetch $6,000,000, Galchenyuk $5,500,000, and Beaulieu $3,750,000, that would leave enough cap space to re-sign Markov at his high-end market value, and still leave about $2,500,000 is salary cap for Bergevin to play with.

Briefly looking ahead to future seasons, the contracts of Emelin, Tomas Plekanec, and Carey Price all expire simultaneously at the end of 2017-18, so Price’s new deal can easily be absorbed without too much concern.

Final verdict

The Montreal Canadiens need Andrei Markov for at least one more season. He has clearly demonstrated an abnormal ageing curve, and would still be incredibly useful both as an on-ice general as well as a mentor for the younger players coming into the system, specifically Sergachev.

The Canadiens should offer Markov a new contract. A two-year deal worth $5,150,000 per year on average should prove to be excellent value for the Montreal Canadiens given the potential cost of an equivalent replacement, and also provides Markov with some security until he turns 40.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 radio, Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.

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