Andrei Markov: will he stay or will he go?
For those who have been hiding under a rock (and somehow made it here without reading up on the news first), Andrei Markov is hurt. Badly. Again. It's his third major injury in 13 months, dating back to last season's opening night when he was cut by a skate in a game against the Maple Leafs. And he's only played 7 games between two ACL tears. You have to feel for the guy, as it's always a long and painful process to rehab a major injury. And to add insult to injury Markov's contract ends this season and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If he's lucky he might be in playing condition by July 1st.
Here's where things get very interesting for the Montreal Canadiens. What do they do with the oft-injured Markov? He's an elite defenceman when healthy, but do you really want to run the risk of being stuck without your top defender for long stretches like this? What are the alternatives available?
Before I get into the possible scenarios regarding Markov, let's look at what the Canadiens have coming up this summer. The first area of concern is the rest of the defence. Roman Hamrlik and Hal Gill are also pending free agents. Hamrlik is almost a sure thing to be let go, unless he is willing to take a significant pay cut from the 5.5 million he's earning now. He has a lot of miles on his body and that's been showing the last two seasons. He's a few steps slower and better suited for a depth role in the final years of his career. It's probable that this could create the void needed to promote Yannick Weber permanently. Gill on the other hand has been extremely valuable to the Habs and I expect to see him re-signed. He had a rough 09-10 regular season but was a rock in the playoffs and carried that momentum into this season. Expect his new salary to be somewhere between his current salary (2.25 million) and 3 million.
In terms of needs up front, I expect the Habs to use some of the cap left by Hamrlik to seek a top-6 winger. Benoit Pouliot was supposed to be in that role but he seems better suited for the depth scoring role on the 3rd line. He has clicked very well with Jeff Halpern and I believe he could be kept there long-term. That leaves us with the need to sign a free-agent winger.
All my data regarding the upcoming UFA class was found at http://www.mynhltraderumors.com/tag/...l-free-agents/
There are many wingers available but most won't even hit the open market. A few possibilities that I see include Alex Kovalev, Jamie Langenbrunner, Mark Recchi, Simon Gagne, Alex Ponikarovsky and Brooks Laich. I believe all of these guys can be signed for 4 million or less (in some cases a lot less).
Next, the Habs will need a replacement for Halpern. He's playing very well but I expect him to seek a good salary as the final good payday of his career. The Canadiens could opt to meet his salary demands, but this is also an opportunity to give Lars Eller the #3 centerman job. The void left on the 4th line could easily be filled by Ryan White.
Another area with questions is the backup goalie spot. Alex Auld is a capable backup but if he was a longer-term answer he would've signed a multi-year deal in Montreal. The most likely scenario is bringing in Karri Ramo from Russia but I worry his salary demands might be a bit high for an unproven NHL goaltender. If talks fall apart I could see the Canadiens going back to Auld or signing another cheap veteran backup.
The player personnel choices I outlined are here to show that the Canadiens likely have one spot to fill on the blueline without considering Markov, and where some of Hamrlik's freed salary is going to be spent on the roster. I did not talk about the impending raises for Andrei Kostitsyn and Josh Gorges because they will be retained although their new salary will cut into the savings significantly.
Now, let's go back to the Markov situation. I don't believe he should be re-signed. The last 13 months have shown major red flags and I actually prefer spending Markov's 5.75 million cap hit elsewhere. Markov has played a lot of minutes over the years and could be on the decline. The only way I could see him returning is if he accepts a one-year deal in the ballpark of 5 million. A two-year deal could work but he would have to take a hometown discount for that to make sense.
Would he accept a one-year deal or a discount? Not likely. If we've learned anything about free agency, it's that there's always a team willing to make a bad decision on the contract terms just to get the player. I expect a team to put a three-year deal on the table much like the one Gonchar (another injury-prone dman) signed in Ottawa. I just hope it's not Pierre Gauthier that offers the three-year pact.
This takes us to replacement scenarios in Montreal. Depending on how much money is spent elsewhere, any of the following defencemen could be considered: Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Kaberle, Joni Pitkanen, Kevin Bieksa, James Wisniewski, Christian Ehrhoff, Ian White, Anton Babchuk and Andy Greene. Aside from Pitkanen and Kaberle, I expect all these defencemen to sign for under 5 million, which would be a saving although a downgrade in talent from Markov.
My conclusions here are that it's worth considering the possibility of replacing Markov with a defenceman whose durability isn't as questionable. I also believe it's a good time to invest some of the cap savings into helping the team up front. It's not that I don't like Markov, in fact I'm a huge fan of his. But a salary cap league calls for tough decisions and the lack of a #1 defenceman will really hurt the Habs the rest of the season.
Now let's look at the fantasy hockey side of things. He's a band-aid boy. The latest injury threw a major curveball to his owners because they were waiting to be finally rewarded with some high scoring output once Markov was in game shape. But that didn't happen and he's back on the shelf long-term.
So what do you do? If you buy into the "buy low, sell high" philosophy you don't want to trade him away now. If you're in a league with bench spots then why not build around the situation since Markov has no trade value anyway? Try to acquire a solid dman that you can stash away on the bench until Markov gets hurt. I'll outline a points-only scenario for next season that shows what I mean:
Markov: 50 games, 35 points
Bench player: 32 games, 13 points
Overall: 82 games, 48 points
Markov still gives you solid per-game production, so if you invest in a decent bench alternative to sub in for injuries you can still get great overall production from Markov's spot in the lineup. I believe this approach is far cheaper then selling short on Markov's talent. You could target someone like Brad Stuart, Jaroslav Spacek or Adrian Aucoin. These guys don't have great value but offer good secondary scoring from the back end. And the upside with this strategy is that if Markov plays a full schedule the upside is 60-65 points. Don't sell low, turn the "weakness" into a strength.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the team he signs with. If my plan comes true Markov will hit the open market. His new environment could positively or negatively affect his ability to put up points. Somehow I see Tampa Bay as a good fit. They really lack a top PP dman. Markov would do a pretty solid job finding Stamkos in the slot. I really could see some of the contending teams take a chance on him. Maybe Vancouver if they lose Ehrhoff, Maybe Detroit, maybe the LA Kings, maybe Washington. I don't know everyone's cap situation but if a contending team can afford it the upside is tremendous. Just pray he doesn't end up with teams like the Panthers or Wild, as that would severly hurt his chance of producing.
If you don't own Markov, this could be a solid buy-low opportunity if your league has bench spots. As long as you have a solid alternative should he get hurt, your overall production will still be excellent.
Oilers 4, Canadiens 3 (OT)
I'm a bit under the weather right now and missed a small chunk of the game (end 1st / early 2nd). Here's what I gathered on the Habs tonight:
Team play: The jump was there but in the 2nd half they were unable to sustain any offence after the initial chance. It was always one chance and then the puck is out of the zone. I also found that the Hamrlik/Spacek lack of foot speed was exposed late against Taylor Hall. Still nice to get the point though, as they all add up later.
Tomas Plekanec: Fantastic penalty killer. One of the best forwards in the league when shorthanded. He's also clicking offensively despite no points tonight. All indications point to another 70 point season.
Brian Gionta: Showed a lot of grit tonight, even going after Hall at one point in retaliation to being checked. He's digging pucks in the corner and getting a lot of chances. Fantasy owners should feel comfortable. His numbers should meet expectations by the end of the season.
PK Subban: A rough outing to say the least. Needs to stop trying to be superman and pick his spots a bit better. He has the skill to excel in any situation so if he just tones it down a bit and uses some intelligence things will get back on track. I'm thinking the coaches address this in practice and in most cases lighting a fire under a player has positive short-term results.
Mathieu Darche: Was on the ice for 2 power play goals, and both scores involved him going to the net (he scored one of them). I like the fit here because he has decent size and hands, and works hard around the net. Could find himself in a Holmstrom role for short stretches which could lead to a handful of PPP.
Anthony Calvillo: Showed great poise in the booth. Even when Pierre McGuire made corny comments Calvillo stayed cool and gave crisp answers. That's what champions are made of. Get well soon AC!!!