All Andrei Markov had to do was clear the zone.
Instead, a weak chip up the boards by No. 79 led to the turnover that could ultimately cost the Montreal Canadiens a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Markov’s giveaway resulted in a wide-open Martin St. Louis roofing the puck over Canadiens’ Dustin Tokarski, on what was a perfect shot, to give the New York Rangers a much-needed 3-2 overtime victory and a commanding 3-1 series lead heading back to Montreal.
It was a devastating result for Habs Nation, and now that the Canadiens are just one loss away from booking tee times, it begs the question, what changes need to be made in the offseason?
Well, let’s start with the 35-year-old defenseman who arguably cost Montreal a win in Game 4 Sunday night. That’s right, Andrei Markov.
The Russian Olympian has been with the “Bleu-Blanc-Rouge” for his entire NHL career, totaling 14 seasons. Many would call that dedication to a team, city and fans said to be the most passionate in the league. However, the Habs have not exactly given him reason to leave.
It’s no secret Markov has had his share of injuries, particularly with his knee. Knee injuries are extremely frustrating and can wreak havoc on a player’s career. That was the case with Markov. The Canadiens’ defenseman had problems with his knee in the past, and that was only made worse when he re-injured it at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season.
Despite all this, Pierre Gauthier, Montreal’s general manager at the time, signed Markov to a three-year contract extension worth $17.25 million in 2011. Many criticized the move, and rightfully so, as this was when Markov was coming off a season in which he had played only seven games, and things only got worse from there.
The following season (2011-12) was a circus. Montreal was plummeting down the standings. Coach Jacques Martin was fired. So was assistant coach, Perry Pearn. The team was in an utter disaster and showing no signs of slowing down.
And where was Andrei Markov in all this, you ask?
He was sitting in the press box, collecting his paychecks. Markov was eating up $5.75 million in cap space, but had yet to play a game through the month of February. After recovering from surgery, the 35-year-old finally came back in March, but it was too little too late. The damage was done. The Canadiens went on to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference, and Markov played a whopping 13 games.
In fairness to Markov, he has played relatively well since his comeback, putting up 76 points in 142 games. There’s no denying his talent. The veteran defenseman sees the ice better than most and has a tremendous hockey IQ. His ability to complete smart outlet passes makes him an asset on any team in this league. Not to mention, he faces top-quality opposition and logs a lot of minutes on a night-in-night-out basis.
However, Markov has slowed down with age, and it is obvious the knee injury has taken a toll on his mobility. He is often found chasing the play and fumbles the puck enough times to make any fan nervous.
Markov has been touted as the Canadiens’ quarterback on the power play for years, but his recent play suggests otherwise. His inability to keep the puck in the offensive zone and the countless times he has missed the net has caused nothing but headaches for Montreal on the man advantage.
At even strength, Markov and Alexei Emelin have been turnover machines in their own zone, and it has led to numerous scoring chances for the opposition over the course of the season. The Habs cannot afford to have a defensive pairing that struggles in the defensive zone as much as the Markov-Emelin pairing does.
It can be argued Markov is still an important piece to the puzzle and his veteran leadership is needed on the back end. That may be true, but for the amount he wants, Markov will be expected to log around the same amount of minutes he is now; that being 25-plus. At the stage he is at in his career, he just can’t handle that anymore.
The reality is Andrei Markov is not what he once was. It is time to move on. There are better options out there.