During the NHL’s suspension in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, few NHL players are skating – and that’s true almost anywhere in the world. However, off-ice news is still generated by teams as players stay busy waiting for the suspension to lift or as teams work to sign players who might one day wear the team’s jersey.
In this post, I want to help Montreal Canadiens fans stay up-to-date on the news that’s emerging from their team.
Item One: Andrei Markov Retires
Andrei Markov’s long hockey career is over. Although Markov hadn’t suited up for the Canadiens since returning to Russia in 2018 to play in the KHL, the news late last week that he’s retiring means he won’t have the chance to play 1,000 NHL games. The 41-year-old defenseman’s agent announced his retirement to reporters who had covered his play in the past. Although Markov had been reported to be interested in a return to the Canadiens last summer, nothing materialized of that rumor.
Markov was chosen during the sixth-round (162nd overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and played his entire career in a Canadiens’ uniform; what a career it was. As a defenseman, his 990 games were second only to the great Larry Robinson for Montreal longevity. As well, his 572 career points as a defenseman tie him with Guy Lapointe for second place (also behind Robinson, who had scored 883).
In the global arena, Markov played in three different Olympics Games, five World Championships, and two World Cups for Russia. As well, after his return to the KHL for the 2018 season, he helped his Kazan Ak-Bars team win the KHL’s Gagarin Cup. He was on KHL Gagarin Cup-winning teams three times.
Although Markov wasn’t an elite defenseman, he was awfully good. His reputation was that he was smart and that he was a great passer who could set up his teammates for easy goals. Although he never won the Norris Trophy, he regularly received votes. Sadly, rumors at the end of his Canadiens career suggest that he left after seeking, but not receiving, a $6 million contract from general manager Marc Bergevin.
Item Two: Might Karl Alzner Become a Compliance Buyout?
COVID-19 will impact the NHL beyond this season, including the league’s financial ledger sheets. Obviously, with the ice melted and the arenas empty, there’s a huge loss of revenue for each team because there are no ticket sales. This affects the salary-cap limit, which – as part of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) – is tied to the league revenue.
In early March as the general managers’ meetings came to an end, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announced to NHL GMs that the salary cap for next season was projected to rise to somewhere between $84 million and $88.2 million. The upper salary-cap limit was $81.5 million in 2019-20.
COVID-19 since changed that prognosis. As the crisis continues, there’s a rumor the NHL will bring back compliance buyouts to help teams deal with the loss of revenue and the subsequent impact on players’ contracts from the ensuing salary-cap squeeze. Such compliance buyouts would not count against the salary cap and would help teams carve out the space they expected from a salary-cap increase.
Here’s where Karl Alzner’s name pops up. Should there be a compliance buyout, Alzner is an obvious choice. He’s signed for two more years on a $4.625 million contract and he isn’t even on the Canadiens’ roster. He simply panned out as the top free agent the team thought he’d become, and now he’s buried in the Canadiens AHL affiliate in Laval collecting his huge salary.
In fact, the 31-year-old Alzner has only played 13 NHL games during the last two seasons. There’s no doubt the Canadiens would relish the idea of washing his contract right out of their salary-cap equation. He’s not in the team’s plans at all. This is one of those cases where perhaps both Alzner and the Canadiens could benefit from a second chance.
Item Three: Ben Chiarot Is a Billboard for Playing in Montreal
Alzner aside, it’s been tough over the years for the Canadiens to attract quality free agents to Montreal. And, Ben Chiarot wonders why. After he signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) last summer, he wonders why more NHL players don’t make their ways to Quebec’s “La Metropole.” In short, he’d recommend playing in Montreal to any UFA.
During a recent conference call with Sportsnet, Chiarot noted, “I would say if you like playing in front of a full building and a place where they love hockey – and there’s so much history in the city around the team and in the Bell Centre – it’s a perfect place to play as a hockey player.”
The 28-year-old Chiarot went on, “For me, there’s no better place to play than in Montreal. Hockey is everything there and I think, as a hockey player, that’s what you want. You want a place that cares and a place that loves hockey, and that was a big reason why I signed there. So that would be the first thing that I would tell someone if they’re were trying to decide on coming to Montreal.”
Item Four: Nick Suzuki Wants to Complete the 2019-20 NHL Season
Rookie center Nick Suzuki is clear about his hopes. He hopes his Canadiens will have a chance to finish the 2019-20 season. However, he knows that call is “not in our hands.”
He added, during a recent conference call that, “Getting ice is tough, but you have to do everything you can to be prepared. It could mean a short summer, but I’ve had short summers before. You just have to hope you get back into game shape quickly.” (from “Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki hopes to build on, and continue, rookie season,” Pat Hickey, Montreal Gazette, 22/04/20)
During his rookie season, the 20-year-old center scored 13 goals and 41 points in 71 games. Suzuki believes he improved the defensive aspect of his game, although he looked tired towards the end of the season. The NHL season grind can take some getting used to.
What’s Next for the Canadiens?
Similar to all other NHL teams, the Canadiens continue to wait for news about the season. In the meantime, the team continues to sign players. In most recent news, the team signed 26-year-old KHL goalie Vasili Demchenko to a one-year, entry-level contract at $700,000. He will likely compete to become Carey Price’s back up for next season.
So, things continue to change within the organization.