Andrei Markov

Max Pacioretty, Andrei Markov, PK Subban,

Habs to play without captain for just second time in franchise history

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The Montreal Canadiens had a tough decision to make with four legit candidates for their vacant captaincy.

The decision was so tough, in fact, that Montreal kinda didn’t make one.

On Monday, the Habs announced that nobody would wear the “C” this year, rather comprising a leadership group made up of alternate captains P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty.

The new quartet takes over from Brian Gionta, who signed in Buffalo this summer after serving as captain since 2010-11 — which came on the heels of the the inaugural vacancy. During the 2009-10 campaign, Montreal went captain-less for the first time ever, opting to leave the “C” open following Saku Koivu’s lengthy stint (Koivu was Montreal’s captain for 10 years, tying Jean Beliveau for longest tenure in club history.)

Today’s announcement of the Subban-Markov-Plekanec-Pacioretty leadership quartet has already drawn some criticism:

Further complicating things is that only three players can wear the “A” during a game — so Habs GM Marc Bergevin has broken down the assignments:

— Markov and Plekanec, the two veterans of the group, will serve as alternates for all 82 games this season.

— For the first 41 games of the season, Subban wears the “A” for home games and Pacioretty for road games.

— For the final 41 games of the season, Pacioretty wears the “A” at home and Subban on the road.

With today’s development, Montreal remains one of six NHL clubs currently without a captain. The others are San Jose, Ottawa, Florida, Buffalo, Columbus and the New York Rangers.

Subban would ’embrace’ Montreal captaincy

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Six
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Earlier this summer, online oddsmaker Bovada listed P.K. Subban as the favorite to become Montreal’s next captain.

Now, Subban says he’s ready for the honor.

“I think that I’d embrace it,” Subban said Tuesday, per the Canadian Press. “Added responsibility to me makes a player better, and I think I’ve accomplished a lot in a short time in this League and I’ve earned the respect of my peers and my opponents to command the respect that a captain deserves.”

Many people — aside from oddsmakers — feel that Subban tops the list of potential candidates to replace Brian Gionta, who took over Montreal’s captaincy in 2010 but signed with Buffalo on the opening day of free agency.

Gionta succeeded Saku Koivu, who’d been the Habs’ captain from 1999-2009 but left as a free agent following the 2008-09 season. (Of note, 2009-10 was the first time in club history the Canadiens played a full season without a captain.)

Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty are the other logical choices to inherit Gionta’s “C”. Markov has the most experience in terms of leadership as he was named Montreal’s alternate captain in 2010, but Plekanec isn’t that far behind — he captained the Czech Republic’s team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, reprising his role from the 2012 World Hockey Championships.

Pacioretty, meanwhile, has already stated his desire to be the next captain.

“Of course,” he said of wanting it, per Sportsnet. ”There’s a lot of guys on the team who feel like they could be a good captain, and that’s a good thing. Whoever is named captain is going to have a lot of help.

“When you have that surrounding of a lot of leaders in the group, it makes it easier on the person who wears the C.”

There have been 28 captains in Canadiens history, with Koivu and Jean Beliveau sharing the record for longest tenure (10 years).

Looking to make the leap: Nathan Beaulieu

Nathan Beaulieu
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The Montreal Canadiens made some huge investments in re-signing defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov while arguably rolling the dice by parting ways with noteworthy names like Josh Gorges. While those alterations make an argument that Subban and Markov will shoulder a lot of pressure, there’s also another consideration: the Habs are opening the door for young defensemen to take the next step.

The first name that comes to mind is Nathan Beaulieu, the main focus of this post.

The 21-year-old may just represent something of a conundrum for the Canadiens going forward: will the team trust blue chips such as himself or will Michel Therrien & Co. lean too much toward veterans who may bring more name recognition than production? Beaulieu bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL last season, but a Habs Eyes on the Prize review makes a strong argument that he should be a fixture with the big club in 2014-15:

Even once the playoffs had begun, it took an elimination situation in the Boston series for Michel Therrien to insert the puck-moving defencemen in the lineup. Beaulieu made an immediate impact, as the difference between he and Douglas Murray turned out to be a game-changer. Montreal would go on to win the series in seven games, partially thanks to Beaulieu’s ability to carry the puck, quick zone clears and crisp passes.

Beaulieu’s skills seems befitting of a first-rounder (17th overall in 2011), leading that same discussion to turn to an interesting thought: he might just be an ideal running mate for P.K. Subban.

(Talk about making the leap.)

As promising as he seems, it’s difficult to totally separate discussion of Beaulieu with the Habs other up-and-coming first-rounder (in this case, 22nd overall in 2010), Jarred Tinordi. While their styles vary, the early word on both is that they could fit right into the Montreal mix last season.

For the sake of comparison, that same great Habs blog provided a guardedly optimistic reading on his work:

Given fairly easy minutes, Tinordi crushed possession last year, especially while the game was close, the second straight year he’s shown himself to be a pretty dominant possession player in soft minutes. With that said, he didn’t have a great goal differential due to a fairly poor PDO. Some of that can definitely be chocked up to poor luck on both sides of the puck, but the fact is that Tinordi is still bleeding scoring chances against at a significant rate. The good thing is, that will change as he polishes his game and adjusts to the NHL.

It’s plausible that these two might need to out-duel each other to make a leap next season, yet there’s also a decent argument that they have the tools to round out what could be a sneaky-good set of defensemen in Montreal.

As with just about any blueliners, there will be mistakes, so the other big factor is whether or not Therrien will roll with their growing pains.

Markov represents Montreal’s other pricey extension

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game One
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The Montreal Canadiens spared little expense when it came to locking up crucial defensemen this offseason, yet it’s easy to see why they decided to roll the dice. At least, that certainly seemed to be the case regarding the expensive extensions they inked with P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov.

Naturally, Markov’s price tag doesn’t seem so staggering compared to Subban’s stunning $9 million cap hit, but the 35-year-old is a couple injuries and/or slumps away from drawing serious heat to his three-year, $17.25 million extension.

Considering some struggles in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, that price tag probably would have looked foolish just a summer ago, especially when you combine the inherent risks of a 35+ deal with the veteran blueliner’s unlucky injury history. Still, when you consider Habs Eyes on the Prize’s take on Markov’s most recent year, this deal might just be a bargain (or at least a necessary evil):

Taking into account the tough minutes that Markov was assigned this year, the amount he played, and his age, it’s hard to believe he was able to put up the season he did. Replacing a player of his caliber is essentially impossible, and if Therrien wisely decreases his minutes a couple shifts per game, he’s likely to be fresher and put up better results.

There is almost no way to argue that the Habs aren’t getting fair value here, no matter what deficiencies you think Markov might have in regards to speed. If you look at other defenseman playing at his level at around the same age in Dan Boyle, Kimmo Timonen, or even Sergei Gonchar and Stephane Robidas, 39 seems to be the age where the big drop off happens, and that’s an age the Canadiens don’t have to worry about with this contract.

Both Markov and especially Subban will face significant pressure stemming from the justifiable-yet-undeniable risks that come with their contract extensions, but that doesn’t mean that Montreal GM Marc Bergevin made illogical decisions in either case.

Don’t expect anything but venomous, hindsight-fueled criticisms if Markov’s deal proves to be a flop, though.

Subban favored to be next Habs captain, says oddsmaker

PK Subban
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Montreal is currently without a captain for the first time in five years and, according to online oddsmaker Bovada, P.K. Subban is favored to be the next Canadien to wear the “C”.

Subban tops the list of potential candidates to replace Brian Gionta, who took over Montreal’s captaincy in 2010 but signed with Buffalo on the opening day of free agency. Gionta succeeded Saku Koivu, who’d been the Habs’ captain from 1999-2009 but left as a free agent following the 2008-09 season (of note, 2009-10 was the first time in club history the Canadiens played a full season without a captain.)

The full list of candidates, per Bovada:

P.K. Subban                 1/1

Tomas Plekanec            3/2

Andrei Markov               11/4

Max Pacioretty              6/1

Of the guys behind Subban, Markov has the most experience in terms of leadership as he was named Montreal’s alternate captain in 2010 (at the same time Gionta took the “C”). Plekanec isn’t far behind, though — he captained the Czech Republic’s team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, reprising his role from the 2012 World Hockey Championships.

There have been 28 captains in Canadiens history, with Koivu and Jean Beliveau sharing the record for longest tenure (10 years).