A busy day around the NHL got a little bit busier as the Montreal Canadiens have agreed to terms with star defenseman Andrei Markov for the next three years. Markov will be compensated handsomely as the Habs will put $17.25 million into his bank account for his three years of service. If the unrestricted free agent can stay healthy, it will be a great deal for the Habs and their fans.
Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier is pleased to keep Markov in a Habs sweater:
“We are very pleased that Andrei has made the decision to pursue his career with the Montreal Canadiens. A player drafted and developed by our organization, Andrei brings a high level of talent and leadership to our team. We look forward to having him back in our lineup for the start of the upcoming season”
Re-signing Markov was huge for the Habs this offseason. When he’s on the ice he’s one of the most important players to the Canadiens. Unfortunately, staying on the healthy roster has been Markov’s biggest challenge over the last two seasons. He only played 45 games in 2009-10, and then only played 7 games last season before exiting stage left in mid-November for the rest of the season. If there was any surprise with the contract, it was that Montreal was willing to commit to the injury plagued 32-year-old for the next three seasons.
Despite questions about his health after two reconstructive knee surgeries, he’s been an absolute beast for the Canadiens when he’s right. He’s put up statistics that rank him near the top of the league in defensive scoring since the lockout. In his last two healthy seasons (2007-08 and 2008-09), Markov put up 58 and 64 points respectively. Each would have put him in the top five in defenseman scoring this season. Clearly, there’s a reason the Habs are willing to take a risk on a player of Markov’s caliber.
Montreal still has some work to do with their defensive corps now that their alternate captain has been re-signed though. Yannick Weber is a restricted free agent, while James Wisniewski, Paul Mara, and Brent Sopel are all unrestricted as of July 1. Gauthier knows he’s in a rare position as the Habs had 11 defensemen by the end of the season and said, “it’s a puzzle and we need to make choices.” He explained to Pat Hickey at the Montreal Gazette that the organization is looking to build around some of the players already in town:
“If you look at our team, we had only five players who were with the team three years ago. We ranked 23rd in the league in terms of experience as a team and I think one of our goals is to build on what we have.”
Signing Markov answers one of the biggest offseason question marks for the Canadiens. If they can find a way to get James Wisniewski under contract, they’ll have two defensemen capable of scoring 50+ points from the point next season. Add in Hal Gill and PK Subban, the Habs will have the foundation for a strong blueline.
That is if Markov can stay healthy.