Markov: The Big Tease

by Jacob Saltiel

Let’s hope Markov’s contract is more entertaining than the movie nearly pictured above, yeah?

Speculation and rumours abounded this week that Andrei Markov* would sign a 1 or 2 year extension with the Canadiens, including a ‘Count it!’ prediction from the Team 990’s Tony Marinaro before it was formally announced that he had signed for 3 years to patrol the blueline and the trainer’s office in red, white and blue and likely also black.

Before launching into all kinds of enlightening, detailed analysis backed up by advanced and powerful statistics explained lucidly, I’d first like to direct your attention to Markov’s rehabilitation workout mixtape. Nothing like some Nine Inch Nails to keep your spirits up while you’re learning to walk again in the wading pool-, am I right?

Mixtape for Make Better Borscht Knee by Andrei Markov
1. Damaged Goods – Gang of Four
2. Hurt by Johnny Cash (Cover, duh).
3. Don’t Feel Right by The Roots
4. Can I Kick It? by A Tribe Called Quest
5. Medication by Queens of the Stone Age
6. Feel Good Inc. by The Gorillaz
7. Shattered by The Rolling Stones
8. Protect Ya Neck by Wu-Tang Clan (per Pacioretty’s recommendation)
etc… etc… (It’s been a couple of seasons and offseasons, this list goes on. Trust me.)

You get the picture.

The reaction to this deal should be neither one of ‘Holy fuck yes!‘ nor ‘Good God, no- why?!’ Since evaluating how effective Markov will be after spending the better part of two seasons out of the lineup with major knee injuries is impossible. But you know all of that already, so rather than arguing what kind of Markov will or will not be in the lineup, it might be more interesting to evaluate the deal against the main consideration for any transaction post-lockout. That is, the salary cap.

The Canadiens now have what is quickly becoming a glut of dangerously paid veterans. Cammalleri, Gomez, Gionta and Markov total a shade under 24m, or about 38% of the cap when only 1 member of the team’s young core (Price, Subban, Pacioretty, and the amazing Tomas Plekanec‘s turtleneck) is signed to a deal beyond his restricted free agency years, hence the description of the veterans’ salaries as ‘dangerous’. If the Canadiens have to trade away useful complementary players or a member of the young core due to the cap ceiling, Markov’s deal will hurt the team, a team that’s been improving without him.

With Wisniewski, a potentially cheaper player who may provide about 70% of Markov’s production, now priced out, Markov’s deal comes at a significant, to put it in grade 10 economics terms, opportunity cost. Wisniewski is not as good as a healthy Markov even adjusting for the physical grit and above-average fighting skills he brings that Markov completely lacks because of the comparison between his defensive skills and the way that Markov controls the flow of the game. Even accounting for this, if the Canadiens could have signed Wisniewski for between 4 and 4.5m a season for several years, they would have gotten younger, healthier, and kept some skills on the backline that PK Subban can’t replace. When operating with a salary cap, particularly when the Canadiens have a handicap compared to most other teams in the league because of Quebec’s relatively high taxes, every penny counts, and if Markov gets hurt again it can be difficult to replace him mid-season without  costly stop-gap solutions as we saw this year when Gauthier traded away a 2nd, 4th, and 2 5th (one conditional) round picks and Ben Maxwell for 75 regular season games of Mara, Wisniewski, and Sopel, none of whom are likely to be on the team this coming season following a 1st round exit. Even if Maxwell doesn’t turn into an NHL’er, that’s a decent chunk of assets that just disappeared and the situation that produced that waste hasn’t been addressed. As our Green-Loving, Al Gore-watching friends might say: “Where’s the fucking sustainability, P-Gauts!?! Green Team!”

Maybe Markov and Subban will make the Canadiens powerplay a death sentence for undisciplined teams this year with their combination of left and right handed shooting, hard shots, passing skills and mobility. Or, maybe Martin will be talking the media into a coma about organizational depth and- I paraphrase here- ‘young players having to step up… so I can sit them the fuck down’. Regardless, this team’s success depends more on the improvement from young guys** such as Subban, Price, Pacioretty, Desharnais, Eller and Weber rather than the chunky soup that is Markov’s knee. Now, let’s see about signing that group when their agents come calling for some extra cheddar on their waffles in the coming years.

*Notice how the comedians at TSN picked the photo of Markov just as he realized his knee had turned into string cheese.

** I’d include The Interesting Case of Benoit Button here, but it appears that he’s a tribal council meeting away from getting voted off the island.

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