For the past decade or so, the Montreal Canadiens have relied heavily on forward Tomas Plekanec and defenceman Andrei Markov. Both men have been loyal to the franchise as the Habs are the only NHL team they have ever played for. They have been leaned on both offensively and defensively for many years but this season hasn’t been a banner year for either player.
The struggles of Plekanec and Markov
On the surface, Plekanec’s numbers look decent with 34 points in 47 games. However, he has only nine goals on the season but considering the scoring struggles of the entire team, it isn’t terribly surprising. It is disappointing since Plekanec had 26 goals last season and signed a two-year $12 million dollar extension back in October. However, Plekanec has value as he is still considered to be Montreal’s top centre and is relied upon five-on-five and on special teams.
Andrei Markov is another story. Markov’s decline can be chalked up to age as he has clearly lost a step and having multiple knee injuries has certainly contributed to that. He still has all the skill to execute plays and he has 23 points in 47 games but his foot speed has slowed considerably this season. It became glaringly apparent in Montreal’s recent game vs. St. Louis where Markov’s inability to get back in time led to the Blues scoring the overtime winner.
It is obvious that Markov needs to play less and sit some nights. Last season, he looked exhausted by the playoffs and his play suffered as a result. Nathan Beaulieu is the logical choice to take on some of Markov’s minutes and for a stretch he was playing alongside PK Subban. Like Plekanec, Markov is still valuable and is a big part of the Habs but where does this leave the team?
#Hans Bergevin on Markov: "We need Andrei Markov, moving forward. He's not a spring chicken anymore… but I believe he will bounce back."
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) January 21, 2016
Time to trust the youth
Head coach Michel Therrien needs to trust younger players to take the load off Plekanec and Markov. Alex Galchenyuk has been one of few Habs to put up points but is usually in the middle of the pack among the forwards in ice time. Daniel Carr, a player who was willing to go the dirty areas and was scoring goals was sent down in favour of Jacob de la Rose, who only has nine points in 24 games in the AHL. For Montreal to succeed, they need to trust the kids.
One of the biggest complaints about Plekanec and Markov is their inability to raise their games in the playoffs. Plekanec has 46 points in 81 games with a plus/minus rating of -18. Markov has 31 points in 83 games and is a -6. The Habs haven’t been contenders for over two decades and during the longer playoff runs the Habs have made, goaltending was the main reason why. Neither player was particularly effective in last year’s playoffs and in the case of Markov, his age caught up to him quickly.
Where do we go from here?
This isn’t to suggest that the Habs need to trade either player but if the right offer came along, it would certainly have to be considered. However for that to happen, the Habs need to change their attitude towards younger players and trust them more. Plekanec still has more hockey left in him but he needs to elevate his game while Markov’s rapid decline and him not resting enough is hurting the Habs. With the absence of Carey Price, everyone on the team needs to step it up a notch, including its most tenured veterans.