It's never easy to part with an old soldier, but if the Montreal Canadiens organization intends to move Andrei Markov, it would get the best return for him right now.
Many won't like this who are sentimental, but you have to at least shop Markov. Perfect 2nd pair D for cup run for team going for it.— BrianWilde (@BWildeCTV) February 22, 2016
Markov has had an injury-plagued career since he first broke into the league in 2000-01; a season in which he played 63 games. He never played a full 82-game campaign until 2007-08. The General has only surpassed the 70-game mark seven times in his career.
Two of those have come in the two seasons prior to this one, and he has played all 61 so far this year. Whatever concerns there may be over his health can be safely put to rest.
Worries about his mobility, however, are valid. Markov has slowed considerably over those past few seasons, and requires a steady presence on his opposite side to get through the defensive portions of his games.
When it comes to offence, he sits 24th in the league in scoring among defenceman, with 33 points in those 61 games. While it can be argued he's benefited greatly from his all-world partner, P.K. Subban, 21 of those 33 points are either primary assists or one of the four goals he has scored (Subban has 25 such contributions among his 46 total points).
That dynamic duo has had just under 53% of five-on-five shot attempts go their way this season, and Markov has personally seen more shots on the opposing netminder than have come his goaltender's way while he's on the ice.
Markov may not be capable of providing that complete package to be a top-two defenceman, but he would be one of the very best second-pairing defenders for virtually any team in the league if given that reduced role.
He probably won't net as much at the deadline as he would have in the summer after last season's 50-point output, and any team taking him on for a playoff run would also be committing to the third and final year of his contract. At $5.75 million, that a lot of space to set aside to a player who probably won't be one of your top-two blue-liners in 2016-17.
What Markov would offer a Stanley Cup contender is probably worth a 2016 first-round pick, but that expensive additional year would require some compromise, whether that means dropping it down to a second-rounder, taking a defensive prospect instead, or moving that first-round selection to what appears to be a more shallow draft in 2017.
Another possibility would be to retain a significant portion of that third-year salary (maximum allowed under CBA is 50%), but the only reason the Habs would make the trade would be to take that final year off the books to allow for the signing of a top-end offensive forward for next season. If they had to pay a large amount in retention funds and sign another defencemen to fill the role Markov would have played, Montreal would be better off to just keep the offensively talented Markov for next season.
Where to move Markov would depend on his modified No-Trade Clause. He can provide a selection of NHL teams he would accept a trade to.
The insiders indicate the market isn't exactly frothing over a Markov trade:
Dreger, on if there's any Markov trade chatter: "I don't hear his name in any way, shape or form, beyond media speculation." #Habs— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) February 23, 2016
However, Marc Bergevin has been known to make moves out of nowhere before, and trading Markov isn't completely unfeasible. Presuming the Habs target a team with a need for offensive help from the blue line and a PP specialist, Markov might be a fit.
The Chicago Blackhawks could have used Markov's abilities for the playoff run, but no longer have room for him after acquiring Andrew Ladd, and definitely couldn't handle his 2016-17 cap hit.
Montreal could make another push for the Tampa Bay Lightning's disgruntled forward Jonathan Drouin, whose time with the team seems to be coming to an end. Whether Yzerman would make a deal within his conference, let alone the Atlantic Division, remains a sticking point, and it's understood the Lightning brass is interested in more youthful options.
Dallas seems the likeliest candidate for a move. The Stars have lots of cap space, could use some help on their blue line, and the rumour mill has young forward Valeri Nichushkin on the market. A right winger set to become an RFA at season's end, Nichushkin sounds like a dream return for Markov and his hefty contract.
Among teams that could use offence from the blue line next year, the Canadiens will be high on the list. Markov has been a key piece for the Habs, and would be next year as well. His veteran presence, power-play effectiveness, and chemistry with one of the league's elite players would be sorely missed by a team that is determined to get back into the upper echelon of the NHL.
The best move for the Montreal Canadiens and Andrei Markov may just be to keep him right where he is.