Who Will Be the Last Career Canadien Standing?

Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec has a distinct advantage over the competition, which can only be described as stiff. The competition itself is all the rage right now, with Plekanec being pitted against defenseman Andrei Markov in their bids to become the last career Canadien standing.

Markov vs. Plekanec

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov – (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Plekanec of course still has a contract, while Markov is on the outside looking in, in that one regard. In that sense, considering it appears unlikely Markov will return according to the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan, the title may yet be awarded to Plekanec, a veteran of 921 NHL games, all with the Habs after he made his debut back in 2003-04.

Despite starting his career a few years earlier in 2000-01, Markov has only a slight edge in that category, with 990 games played. That’s because of three-season span from 2009-2012, during which Markov played just 65 total games due several serious lower-body injuries (left ankle, right knee).

Those injuries may have permanently downed a lesser player, but, as Markov proved this past season, he’s a freak in the best sense of the word. At 38 years of age (going on 39), he put up 36 points in 62 games and helped to stabilize the left side as Shea Weber’s top-pairing partner down the stretch.

Granted, he missed some significant time due to injury this season again, and his durability remains a risk for the Canadiens. His ability to contribute, especially moving the puck up ice and on the power play, is much less of one, though. From an offensive standpoint, that left side is a wasteland of unproven talent, career depth players and stay-at-home defensemen. As such, if a one-year-older Mark Streit is the Canadiens’ answer to ongoing negotiations with Markov, it would only reinforce how badly the Habs need the Russian general back.

Plekanec’s Production Take a Trip Off a Cliff

At the opposite end of the spectrum, one gets the sense Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin would have been pleased as punch to lose Plekanec at the NHL Expansion Draft last month, instead of defenseman Alexei Emelin.

Potentially oblivious to how much of a solid the Las Vegas Golden Knights actually did him, Bergevin reportedly enquired about reacquiring Emelin, despite finally getting his $4.1 million salary cap hit off the books. That’s money, plus interest, he then turned around and gave Karl Alzner, another defensive defenseman who cannot begin to fill the void left by Markov.

All the while, Plekanec is coming off an arguably career-worst season as a 34-year-old. He scored his lowest amount of points, 28, since the zero he put up in two games back in 2003-04. During his official rookie season in 2005-06, he scored 29 in 67 games (78 this season). This was the second straight season his stats took a hit.

He had signed a two-year, $12 million extension back in October 2015, but soon thereafter, in spite of starting the season with 23 points in his first 23 games, his numbers tailed off. He finished with 31 more points in his final 59 games. So, the outlook is not good for a bounce-back season.

Nevertheless, he remains a force on the other side of the puck. In fact, there’s little doubt the Canadiens can still make good use of Plekanec as a third-line center this coming season. Beyond that, it’s anyone guess. One gets the sense the Habs will only re-sign him on their terms, for significantly less coin.

Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec – (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Term and Money for Markov

Again, it’s the opposite situation with regard to Markov, who has reportedly been asking for $6 million for each of the next two years.

He’s dictating his terms and will hypothetically become the second (former) Hab in two weeks to go elsewhere if the Habs don’t give him what he’s looking for. The market may not be rife with many teams willing to take on a soon-to-be 40-year-old defenseman, and that includes the Canadiens (unless his name is Streit).

Nevertheless, the Habs had better come to terms with the notion that they need a player of Markov’s caliber to compete now or risk watching him walk away, much like they did with Alexander Radulov.

If they come to their senses and give in to Markov’s demands, then all of a sudden his hypothetical two-year deal would swing the odds in his favor over Plekanec. This could very well be the final contract of Markov’s illustrious career and it would be special for Habs fans to see a player spend his entire career with the team for the first time since Bob Gainey accomplished the feat when he retired back in 1987.

Loyalty Goes to the Dogs

That’s 30 years ago now, which speaks to just how rare it has become in the NHL these days. Plekanec and Markov may be the last Canadiens of a dying breed with a realistic shot at playing their entire careers as Habs.

As Bergevin himself said, “If you want loyalty, buy a dog.” Of course, Bergevin was infamous for playing for a number of teams over his career (eight total), several over more than one stint. So, one shouldn’t expect sentiment to get in the way of business for him (unless your name is Andrew Shaw and he helped to draft you).

One should expect him to make the wisest hockey decisions possible, and without any suitable alternatives available, Markov remains the best option to play with Weber.

Montreal Canadiens legend Bob Gainey
Montreal Canadiens legend Bob Gainey

Sitting at 990 games, Markov is actually 10 games shy of joining exclusive company, with only five players having played 1,000 games as a Hab (Gainey, Larry Robinson, Henri Richard, Claude Provost, Jean Beliveau). Plekanec is essentially a complete season away himself. In spite of his recent difficulties, accomplishing something so rare would be a testament to his longevity and overall worth to the organization that drafted him.

It begs an interesting question, which would mean more? After all, assuming the status quo, Plekanec may realistically overtake Markov and hit 1,000 games before moving on to another organization next summer.

What’s maybe more of an intriguing question: Why can’t it be both? And that’s not necessarily just in regard to the accomplishments.