If there's anything this young season has taught us...or, I should say, reinforced in us...it's that Andrei Markov is the lynchpin that holds the Montreal Canadiens together. The hub of the wheel. The corner stone, if you will. Okay, that about exhausts my store of engineering analogies. But, you get what I mean, right? Without Markov, the team is going nowhere fast.
I know the critics say if a team has to rely on one player that much, it means the team isn't really very good in the first place. It is, after all, a team game. But the critics are wrong. Would the Washington Capitals be considered a contender this year if Ovechkin went down for half the season in the first game? Or the Wings of the last several seasons without Lidstrom? No, they wouldn't. And Andrei Markov is the Ovechkin and the Lidstrom of the Canadiens. His veteran presence, ice time, ability on special teams, points production, initiation of the transition game and cool poise on the back end combine to make him an elite player; the only one the Habs have. His absence leaves a void nobody else in the organization can fill.
The reality of this year is the Canadiens will have to do their best to keep their grip on a playoff spot and hope to hell they can make a big push when Markov returns. Basic survival is what it comes down to now. We're all hoping the team can pull together well enough to cover the gaping hole Markov has left in the lineup, without any expectation that anyone can actually fill it. It's like hauling a tarp over the broken picture window in the front of your house until the glass arrives, and hoping it shows up before the Hurricanes, Lightning or Avalanche hit.
So while we fans are crossing our fingers and holding our collective breath every game, Markov is back in Montreal recovering. Quickly, if there's really a hockey god. At the same time, Bob Gainey's busy period of trading, drafting and signing has trickled down to the everyday maintenance of the team and annual sorting-out of Slavic enigmas. With the nice, crisp fall weather putting a spring in their steps (or, at least the step of the one NOT on crutches) it's a great time for the two of them to go for lunch. Maybe they could invite Markov's agent and Habs capologist Julien BriseBois along too, if they're not busy. While they're sampling a nice Chardonnay over their risottos and ravioli in truffle olive oil, perhaps Bob could casually mention something like, "So, Andrei, how would you like to finish your career in Montreal?" And maybe Andrei, while nodding approval to the sommelier, could ask Gainey what, exactly, he's got in mind. Perhaps, over espressos and a little tiramisu, Gainey could come around to the point that the Habs need Markov and are likely to continue needing him for the remaining six or seven elite-level years he has remaining in the NHL. With any luck, they could maybe draw up a little binding contract on the back of the dessert menu and have BriseBois run back to the office to type it up for the General's signature.
Because, seriously, what's Gainey waiting for? The "playing without Markov" experiment has been conducted several times in the last couple of seasons and the results are always brutally the same. Markov is the Habs' only all-star and you just don't see teams letting their all-stars go to free agency unless said star has no interest in returning. From the Canadiens' side, all the questions about whether Markov would be as good without Souray pounding in his feeds, whether he's big enough to take on the best opposition players on every shift and whether he can continue to improve have been answered extremely positively. On Markov's side, he loves Montreal and has already taken a discount contract to remain in the city. The time is right to sign him to a long-term extension. Waiting until next year when his deal is about to expire creates a boatload of unnecessary public speculation around whether the team will let Markov go to free agency. And it's disrespectful to a player who has been very, very good for the Canadiens. It's not a case like those of recent years, in which Gainey didn't want to commit to players who might not fit in with the team's plans. Any team would be thrilled to have Markov and the Canadiens are lucky enough to hold his rights. For now.
Of course, there are no guarantees with any player on a six-year deal. In Markov's case, there will be some questions about his potential full recovery from this very serious injury. Whether he'll be the same skater when he comes back topping the list. But if there's any player Gainey needs to gamble on, it's Andrei Markov.
So, Bob, call Andrei. See what he's doing for lunch. And while you're at it, see if Tomas Plekanec and his agent would like to join you too. Your team could use a bounce-back legitimate second-line centre for the next three seasons, especially if he continues to outplay the expensive Scott Gomez. But, maybe that's another lunch for another day. Just don't leave it too long. A good builder doesn't leave his foreman open to offers from the company across town unless he's ready to see him working for the competition.