One thing hasn’t changed since ex-Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov last played in the NHL back in 2016-17. Teams are still willing to take fliers on proven commodities that can help them win. With 990 games played, all with the Habs, Markov is one such player, albeit with a 41st birthday approaching.
Nevertheless, Markov seems dedicated to returning. Armed with an agent, the lack of which helped to stymie a new deal with the Canadiens last time, Markov is reportedly attracting suitors as we speak.
While it would be nice to see Markov reunite with the Canadiens and reach 1,000 games played with one organization, it may not be in the cards. Admittedly, the Habs could use some help on Markov’s left side, with the Canadiens’ projected to consist of Brett Kulak, Victor Mete and Ben Chiarot. However, there still may not be room for him to consistently get ice time.
Mete’s development arguably depends on regular minutes. Meanwhile, Kulak emerged as a legitimate NHL regular last season and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin just signed Chiarot, making him his shiny new toy.
Assuming the Habs are content to continue developing their young talent and not ready to contend, it may not be the best fit, especially if the only argument for it happening is the supposed loyalty factor. Markov may prefer playing with the Habs, but he may have to move on. Where to, though? Here are the three best alternatives:
3. New York Rangers
The Rangers are poised to make some noise in 2019-20 based on their offseason moves. What’s one more?
Aside from acquiring Artemi Panarin to help out up front, they also stabilized their first pairing by getting Jacob Trouba to presumably play with Brady Skjei. The Rangers could arguably use an additional stabilizing force for their bottom pairings, which are in a state of flux.
Marc Staal has underwhelmed in recent seasons and Brendan Smith has never really panned out as a 2017 trade-deadline acquisition. While the Rangers did just buy out Kevin Shattenkirk, moving another defenseman would be for the best, especially if it paves the way for a short-term Markov signing.
Granted, many might see it as counter-intuitive with a youth movement underway, but who would you rather have playing with newcomer Adam Fox? Fellow-rookie Libor Hajek or the seasoned Markov? It makes sense. It’s just unlikely the Rangers make even more changes to their defense with the season coming up fast.
2. New Jersey Devils
If Markov can’t reunite with the Canadiens, maybe he can with P.K. Subban. The two played together from 2009-2016 often on the same pairing, with Subban arguably owing a large debt to Markov for how he developed into a top defenseman as a result.
The Subban trade might have turned the Devils into contenders. Markov could conceivably push them over the edge and secure his first Stanley Cup in the process. It would be a great way for him to reach 1,000 games and bring his career to a close.
Unfortunately, it may not be meant to be. The Devils’ defense as it looks now could actually be a source of strength for them. There just may not be room for Markov unless the Devils decide to hold back blue-chipper Ty Smith for another season. It wouldn’t be the worst problem to have, but between a 19-year-old with something to prove and an on-his-last-legs defenseman, it’s a relatively easy choice.
1. Calgary Flames
Defenseman Juuso Valimaki’s torn ACL put Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving on notice to look for a replacement. It would be natural for the Flames to promote from within, Oliver Kylington specifically. However, Markov would be a good depth option to play with Rasmus Andersson instead.
The Flames are at least considering outside options, seeing as they just signed Andrew MacDonald to a professional tryout. In his heyday, Markov was seen as a consistent, steadying present in both zones, something MacDonald, in spite of an all-around decent game, isn’t. The Flames and Markov could end up being a match made in heaven if his play still holds up, but that would admittedly be true of any potential signing team.
Everyone could use Markov in his prime. The question is, how far off his peak has he fallen? Markov is a (justifiably) proud man who signed in the Kontinental Hockey League partly because he felt disrespected by the Canadiens and couldn’t conceive of playing for anyone else. He has to be willing to compromise, starting with where and what role he plays and ending with how much he makes, with the Flames still having to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk.
While losing the 21-year-old Valimaki hurts, he wasn’t a key contributor in 2018-19. So, Markov could just as realistically help the Flames build on last season’s finish. As long as he plays sheltered, lower-pairing minutes, he can be a missing piece to the puzzle, especially for a team that earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season.
With the first-round defeat to the Colorado Avalanche, it obviously ended in disappointment, just like this upcoming one is beginning. To replace Valimaki, Markov makes for an excellent stop-gap measure on paper. Here’s to him getting a chance to sign somewhere on the dotted line.