Marc Bergevin has no choice but to sign Andrei Markov

The Habs defender wants a small raise, and the risk is worth it

It’s been a tumultuous off-season for the Montreal Canadiens defensive unit, with the expansion draft and a blockbuster trade claiming several Habs defenders. Mikhail Sergachev was shipped out for Jonathan Drouin, Alexei Emelin became a Vegas Golden Knight, and Nathan Beaulieu was traded to the Buffalo Sabres.

Left standing from the Canadiens defence last year are Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn, and Brandon Davidson.

Andrei Markov is an unrestricted free agent, and reports indicate that Markov wants a two-year deal, worth $12 million total. This is a slight ($250,000) bump on his previous deal that paid him 5.75 million a year.

At first glance this deal seems like a lot of money, and increasing the salary of a player who is 38-years-old seems counterproductive.

However, the Habs have no one who can replace his production on the blue line, or take over his minutes in general. That doesn’t mean the contract is without its risks. Markov is currently 38, soon to be 39 and would be over 40 when his deal concludes.

It’s rare that a defenceman continues to be an effective player past his early 30’s, and even more rare that they continue to produce into their 40’s. Only eight defencemen since 2000-2001 have played over 82 games for the remainder of their careers after turning 39. That would be just one of the two seasons the Canadiens are paying Markov.

Markov is a risk at $6 million a year. He’s slowing down on the ice, something that sooner or later happens to every player. However, he has thwarted common sense before. Coming off a two-season stretch in 2010-11 and 2011-12 where he played in only 20 games, he missed only 22 games over the next four years and some of those weren’t even due to injury.

While he’s still capable of driving offence, Markov has never been a dominant shot suppressor, which typically isn’t noticeable when you’re paired with P.K. Subban or Jeff Petry. However in Montreal, he’s paired now alongside an also declining Shea Weber, and Weber won’t always be able to cover Markov’s flaws as he ages.

That’s not to say that Markov is without his merits. While he’s aging, his on ice IQ isn’t decreasing in the slightest. He’s still capable of threading passes with ease, even if he isn’t as mobile as he once was.

He’s a highly useful tool on the power play, holding the line, and distributing the puck through the zone with little effort. He’s not triggerman on the man advantage, or even on his pairing. He commands his teammates, and his ability to read the game is the perfect set up option for a high powered forward core in Montreal.

The statitics back this up as well, with Markov finishing ninth in 5v5 primary assists, 3rd in 5v4 assists, and 5th in all situations. Factoring in the time he missed this year for his injury, and Markov comes out looking even better.

The above HERO chart shows that Markov still performs like a top pairing defenceman.

While his shot suppressing numbers are a bit lower, the Habs have the luxury of a second pairing that features Jeff Petry, who can eat up defensive minutes, and allow the aging Markov to take more offensive zone time.

There’s an obvious risk to re-signing a 38-year-old defenceman coming off a season where he missed 20 games, especially to a $6 million dollar a year, multi-year deal. You worry about their declining physical abilities, especially in a league where speed and skill reign supreme. Markov, despite his high hockey IQ, isn’t the mobile defender he once was, and as he ages, will have to take on lesser minutes to be effective.

If the choice is to give him more money per year to avoid giving him a third year, I think that’s a trade off you are comfortable with.

It should be noted that even with the $250,000 increase, his cap hit as a percentage of the cap will go down. His previous contract took up 8.33% of the cap when it was signed and with a $75 million cap, $6 million takes up 8%.

The biggest issue is that Marc Bergevin has painted himself into a corner where he has no option but to re-sign Markov. His trades have left the left side of the defence without many options in the short- and long-term in terms of productive defenders and there aren’t many other options available.

Markov is among the NHL’s best playmakers in terms of assists on defence, and even at his age he hasn’t missed significant time in nearly half a decade. Based on that alone, it’s worth bringing back Andrei Markov.

If Mikhail Sergachev or Nathan Beaulieu were still in Montreal, moving on might be easy, but as it stands now Markov should be pulling on a Habs sweater next season even if it means giving him more money. Especially if the choice is between Markov and a free agent like Karl Alzner.

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