Loyalty Has No Place with Habs, but Markov Should

When Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin argued that, “if you want loyalty, buy a dog,” it was as if the writing was on the wall regarding Andrei Markov’s tenure as a Hab.

No One to Replace Markov

Bergevin’s hardline approach to negotiations between the team and both Markov and Alexander Radulov drew an ill-advised line in the sand, with both players ending up on the opposite side. While Jonathan Drouin will more than likely help to alleviate the loss of Radulov up front, albeit at the expense of Mikhail Sergachev, there really is no one to replace Markov.

The biggest knock on Markov was his age, which is what probably prevented the team from caving to his reported demands of $6 million for each of the next two years. So, if age was the main mitigating factor, on that basis alone Mark Streit, who is one year older, cannot fill Markov’s skates (at all).

That’s before one gets into such other factors, like statistics, which reveal Markov to not only be a superior defenseman, but one of the most able puck-movers in the game. That’s up to the point at which he decided to leave the NHL for Russia earlier this week, once negotiations between him and the Canadiens reached a stand-still never to start up again.

Who Will Play with Weber?

Ex-Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Mark Streit
Ex-Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Mark Streit – (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Whereas Streit’s value has decreased sharply over the last few seasons, Markov’s has arguably increased. Granted, part of the reason for that is because Bergevin has seemingly stopped at nothing to rid his team’s back-end of mobile, puck-moving defensemen, to the point that the soon-to-be 39-year-old Markov was the last best option to play with Shea Weber on the top pairing on the left side.

Now that responsibility could conceivably fall on the shoulders of Streit, who first saw his role on the Philadelphia Flyers diminish with the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere last season. This current season, he finished sixth in ice time per game on that team, with five defensemen in front of him.

Once traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins (via Tampa Bay Lightning), he again saw his relative value drop sharply. He only dressed for three playoff games (admittedly registering three assists in the process), in spite of man-games lost by the likes of Kris Letang, Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley. Chad Ruhwedel, a 27-year-old veteran of just 67 NHL games at this point, got in six this past spring in sharp contrast.

Like Ruhwedel, Streit also failed to play in the Stanley Cup Final altogether. Such is the championship experience he brings… none whatsoever, regardless of whatever narrative Habs management might insist on shoving down fans’ throats.

What the Canadiens Paid for

Granted, Streit’s $700,000 price tag is inexpensive and represents a minimal risk. However, you clearly get what you pay for here, and that minimal risk would have carried over with a new deal for Markov, as it was revealed at his farewell press conference that he had been willing to accept a one-year deal after all.

Given the chance, Bergevin and some fans may argue the one-year term is irrelevant and that whatever Markov had been asking for over that single season was unreasonable. However, Bergevin doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on in that regard after having blown up the team’s pay structure time and again.

First, he traded for Andrew Shaw, ultimately re-signing the agitator for more money than Brendan Gallagher makes. He also failed to give Drouin a bridge contract, despite the 22-year-old’s new six-year, $33 million deal being his second in the league and Bergevin having previously insisted on minimizing the value of P.K. Subban and Alex Galchenyuk’s sophomore contracts.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber – (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Most notably, he traded for Weber’s untradeable contract, which will pay him an average of over $7.8 million until he’s 41. Suddenly $6 million for one season for the services of a 39-year-old Markov doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Especially when the Canadiens, a team that is supposed to be contending right now, has an estimated $8.5 million in cap space. That’s just bad management.

Bergevin’s Failed Logic

Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov – (Icon SMI)

Maybe Streit isn’t meant to replace Markov. Maybe the newly signed Karl Alzner will, giving the team two shutdown defenseman on the top pairing. If you’re on board with that concept, you’d be ignoring how head coach Claude Julien made a point of taking another shutdown defenseman, Alexei Emelin, off that top pairing right after he had been hired… probably because it makes no sense to have your five best skaters on the ice at the same time and be resigned to the puck staying in your own zone.

The only other realistic option to play with Weber is Jakub Jerabek, who was just signed out of the Kontinental Hockey League, where Markov will now reportedly ply his trade. That’s not for lack of options to play in the NHL. That’s because he couldn’t conceive of playing for another team besides the Canadiens. Maybe it wasn’t all about money, after all. For him, anyway.

To Jerabek’s credit, he was named to the KHL’s first all-star team and finished fifth in scoring among defensemen. Before you get too excited though, the four defensemen above him? Chris Lee, Matt Gilroy, Vyacheslav Voynov and Marc-Andre Gragnani… essentially four players who failed in North America. Not only that, but Jerabek is protected by a European assignment clause if he can’t make the Canadiens, meaning one of the best options to play with Weber now isn’t even a lock to make the Habs.

Welcome to Marc Bergevin’s Canadiens, ladies and gentlemen. And say goodbye, Andrei Markov, a veteran of 990 NHL games, all with the Canadiens.

Maybe it’s overly sentimental to want to see Markov join the ranks of Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson as one of the few to hit 1,000 games with the Habs. However, when Markov remains an elite skater and the only alternatives to replace him are a has-been, a never-was and an unknown, re-signing Markov wouldn’t have been loyalty on Bergevin’s part. It would have been cold, hard logic.