Friday, July 28, 2017

Andrei Markov Autographed Card

Remember a month ago when I lambasted the Arizona Coyotes for their handling of the Shane Doan situation?

Well, huh. It turns out the organization usually considered to be the classiest in the NHL, the Montréal Canadiens, are not beyond reproach in that regard, GM Marc Bergevin going out of his way to make Andrei Markov look bad in what now looks like a one-way breakup between the 16-year veteran and a team that seems to renege on not only its core "family-like" values but also any logical plan.

Indeed, Bergevin keeps repeating he wants defensive depth, yet this summer alone he's let Russian rearguards Markov, Alexei Emelin, future Norris candidate Mikhail Sergachev and Nikita Nesterov, as well as former future Markov replacement Nathan Beaulieu, go. In return, he got emerging star forward Jonathan Drouin and a third-round pick in a weak 2017 amateur draft.

That's after last year's widely panned one-for-one trade of P.K. Subban (an actual Norris winner who still has a decade of play left in him) for Shea Weber. For two years in a row, Bergevin went and got the exact player his team needed, but overpaid both times. Weber has three, maybe four decent years left and is signed until five years after the Apocalypse, whereas Subban just added a new dimension to the Nashville Predators. Weber - a slowing veteran who had just cost the Preds a Game 7 by being -5 in a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks - was not worth a current Norris contender on the market, regardless of how you slice it. A star forward, perhaps, considering the very same day, Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, but not a better, younger, faster defenseman signed long-term but for fewer years, let alone one as charismatic as Subban.

For his part, Drouin is exactly the forward the team needs to spark the offense the way Alex Kovalev used to - and he's a local boy to boot. But the Tampa Bay Lightning were about to leave him exposed in the expansion draft, and would have had to offer a lot for the Vegas Golden Knights not to select him. And Drouin, a quick setup man who can stickhandle well and has a decent shot, is not fit to play center, just like Alex Galchenyuk, except "Chucky" already has a 30-goal season under his belt. Drouin for the "struggling" Galchenyuk? Fair to both teams. Sergachev, a young stud defenseman who didn't have to be protected at the expansion draft? That's called a fleecing.

Adding the fact that the Habs also lost Alexander Radulov this summer to free agency this summer and overpaid to keep Carey Price for three more years than necessary, which will hurt the team's cap for half a dozen years, the outlook for deep playoff runs in Montréal looks pretty bleak. Especially with the team's lack of a #1 center.

Taking all of that into consideration, as well as the $8.5M cap space available this coming season (Price's deal will only be effective starting in 2018-19), the Habs could have met most of Markov's salary demands.

To recap, last winter, his ex-wife died of cancer, forcing The General to take his bye week off in Russia to bring his pre-school twins back to Montréal. He calculated he'd need to play two more seasons to raise his three children - he has another with his new wife - without worrying too much about money, perhaps taking a job as an assistant coach when his playing days would be over. His ask was of $6M per, a slight increase from the $5.75M cap hit he carried in his previous contract.

We're talking about a 16-year veteran, an alternate captain and Team Russia's captain in many international events including a World Championship and an Olympic, a guy who played above his salary for just about every year he's been in the NHL, whose subdued and subtle play has earned the likes of Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek, Sheldon Souray and Subban massive contracts - the first three on other teams, at wages they couldn't match production-wise without #79 at their side, two of whom (Komisarek and Souray) retired in shame - and even drew praise for Norris-winner Subban as the "best defenseman on the team" for all the years he's followed hockey, not just as a teammate.

We're talking about the guy who took every single Russian player who came to the team under his wing for over a decade, and non-Russian defenders such as Beaulieu, Subban, Greg Pateryn, Mark Tinordi, Jean-Philippe Côté, Yannick Weber, Mathieu Carle and many others as well.

We're talking about the guy who was the best defenseman on the team in every month last year save for October (Weber had an amazing start that had fans salivating early on), at age 37-38.

It would have been easy for Bergevin to say "we're tight against the cap, how about 6.5 or 7 this year for a one-year deal, and a verbal agreement that on your 39-year-old contract next summer, when you may be falling into a third-pairing role, something along the lines of 3.5?", but instead he offered a one-year deal at $4.25M, in a "take it or leave it" tone.

Markov came back accepting a one-year deal, only to be told it was no longer on the table after the low-cost signature of Streit, who was the Pittsburgh Penguins' #8 or 9 defenseman on their Stanley Cup drive. If - and that's a pretty big if - the Pens have a better defense than the Habs, it isn't by much; Streit won't go from a #8 to a #2, he'll be a #6 at best, ideally a healthy scratch at times, considering he's actually a year older than Markov and never had his skill-set to begin with.

This move/decision is both a PR nightmare and a horrible hockey decision. A few weeks ago, Bergevin said "if you want loyalty, buy a dog"; good luck signing free agents with that kind of thinking made public.

Last year, I compared the Subban/Weber trade to the one that sent Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, an event that made me stop watching regular-season NHL hockey for seven years, and follow only the Avs and Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. I boycotted the Habs for the entire season last year, and went to see the Ottawa Senators three times instead, buying my Mom a Craig Anderson jersey while I was at it.

The Markov situation just adds sadness to my frustration. It's not just that they sell you these guys that you learn to love watching, it's that they throw them out like they're nothing afterwards and are already selling you the next one before you've even got your head around it, yet the team just keeps circling the same drain, one year adding five defensemen during the season because "you can never have enough depth", the next adding "weight and toughness" in the guise of (Shea) Weber, Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen and Dwight King, yet not retaining half of them when the team gets ousted in the first round by the Wild Card New York Rangers.

So I'm done with the Habs. At least until Bergevin's fired, but perhaps even longer.

I was keeping this card for Markov's 1000th game, which may never come now that he'll be suiting up in the KHL until Bergevin's gone, remaining stuck at 990, with 572 points (119 goals and 453 assists) to show for it, good for second on the Canadiens' all-time list, behind Larry Robinson and tied with Guy Lapointe; it's card #125 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the team's best alternate uniform, the "reverse-red into white" one from 1944-47 that the team brought back during its centennial celebrations:
As a matter of fact, one can notice the Centennial patch on Markov's right shoulder in the picture.

He signed the card in blue sharpie during the 2015-16 season.

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