The Montreal Canadiens didn’t miss a beat with Andrei Markov out of the lineup early this season, but that fact stands in contrast to how they’ve fared without the star defenseman in the recent past.
And unfortunately for Markov and the Habs, there’s a pretty sizeable sample to draw from.
The Russian’s injury woes started when he hurt his left knee in a late-season game versus Toronto in 2009. Without Markov, the Canadiens lost the final four games of the regular season and four more tilts to the Bruins as they were easily swept aside in the playoffs.
When Markov hit the ice for the first time the following season, he was haunted by Hogtown again, forced out of a contest with the Leafs when Carey Price’s skate lacerated a tendon in his left ankle. That sidelined him for 35 games and he missed two more in February with a lower-body injury. The Habs’ record in that time? A sickly 14-20-3. (To be fair, they also played much of that time without Brian Gionta, who scored at a 38-goal pace while in the lineup last season.)
Markov’s troubles with his right knee began when he collided with Matt Cooke on a seemingly harmless play in Game 1 of Montreal’s second-round series with Pittsburgh last spring and was lost for the remainder of the playoffs. The Canadiens managed to upset the Pens despite Markov’s absence, but were dismissed easily by Philadelphia in the conference final – largely because the power play stunk and the team failed to generate offense in general.
Although the man-advantage remained terrible the Habs managed to go 7-2-1 without Markov to start the year and won a big game without him versus Philly Tuesday night.
The team hit a bit of a lull when No. 79 returned to the lineup, but looked to be hitting its stride before Markov re-injured his right knee Saturday night versus Carolina. The club has confirmed Markov will be out “long term” and the early betting seems to be that could mean anywhere from six months to an entire calendar year.
All told, the Canadiens are 22-25-5 without Markov in the last three regular seasons and 70-43-17 with him. That’s a .471 points percentage versus .604. Winter may have just gotten a little colder in Montreal.
The Habs are in a bit better shape to deal with the loss this time out thanks to the presence of puckmoving rookie P.K. Subban, but, when he’s healthy and firing, Markov logs more ice time than any Hab and is often their best player.
Clouding the issue is the fact Markov is eligible to become a UFA at season’s end. He won’t turn 32 until late December and without these recent ailments you have to believe the Habs would have been anxious to re-up before Markov ever hit the open market.
But how voraciously can Montreal pursue a player who just can’t seem to stay healthy the past few years? When you look at the nature of the injuries – especially the sliced tendon – they seem more hard luck than hard evidence of a guy who’s prone to long stays on the injured reserve list because of an identifiable flaw in his game.
Still, right now, it looks like Markov has sustained his second major injury to the same knee in about six months. How the Habs play between now and the time he’s healed might not just determine how Montreal fares this season, but also the form its blueline will take in the years to come.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.