Monday, March 3, 2014

The Head/Heart Debate: The General

The NHL trade deadline is approaching and Canadiens fans are embroiled in the hot debate over whether to keep or trade Andre Markov. The team's assistant captain, loyal veteran and most reliable defenceman is running out of contract and now, says the Head, is the time to move him.

Let's look at the hard facts, the Head argues. Markov is 35 years old. He's sustained serious injuries that cost him a big chunk of his prime, and he's never going to get that back. At the same time, he's still a top-ten point producer among NHL defenders, he's playing 25 minutes a night...tops on the team...and he's got the kind of vision and creativity that can revitalize an ailing power play. Right now, he's worth more than he'll ever be worth again. A playoff contender with a need to improve on special teams would love to have him, and, Head tells the Heart, you know how these Cup-drunk GMs are wont to overpay at the deadline. Just imagine an extra first-rounder and a solid prospect ready to jump in next year to join the young core. Someone might pay that much if they think their championship window is open. With that kind of return, it's hard to justify holding on to a guy who might walk in July anyway.

Yeah, but there's more to the relationship between Markov and Montreal than hard facts, argues the Heart. This is a guy who came to Canada as a scared, Russian-speaking kid fourteen years ago. Making that choice to get on the plane and fly off into the unknown took tremendous courage from a young man who was naturally shy. He did it, though, and he managed to build himself a home and a life in a new country. At the same time, he was a rare bright light on a team that struggled to even make the playoffs half the time. He got better every year and, before his knee injuries, he was a two-time All-Star who was so vital to his team that their win/loss record with/without him was shocking. He's regained a lot of that form since he got healthy. Twice, he could have tested the open market and made a hell of a lot more money than he got in Montreal. He didn't do that, even when he could have played in a city that would have let him enjoy his precious privacy and taxes wouldn't have taken so much of his contract away. He chose to stay, even became a citizen, and he honoured the team by doing so. The Canadiens owe him the same kind of loyalty.

Ha! Oh, come ON, Heart! He was comfortable in Montreal, he wanted to stay in Montreal, and he gave up money to stay there. All of that was his own choice and it had less to do with loyalty than with his lack of interest in starting over in another city.  The Canadiens paid him very well for his service, including the nearly two years he missed after knee surgery, and they don't owe him more than that.

I don't buy it, Head. He loved the team. He stayed even when he could have done better elsewhere, and he did great things for the Canadiens. He's quietly become one of the all-time best Habs defencemen. Seriously. He's seventh all-time in points for Canadiens defencemen. He's fourth in goals, fifth in assists. The people ahead of him are Doug Harvey, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard. Notice, Head, that all of those people are Hall-of-Famers.

Oh, come on, Heart. The league these days is not the league they played in. This is business and the team needs to get younger and tougher. Markov is old, slowing, not exactly a physical presence, and he'll never be any better than he is now. Marc Bergevin has a responsibility to the team and the fans that has to outweigh sentiment. Andrei Markov isn't Larry Robinson...he's an asset that can bring value to the team for the future. The only question Bergevin should be considering is whether the gain down the road is worth short-term pain. Oh, and Heart? Harvey, Robinson, Lapointe and Savard were all traded out of Montreal toward the ends of their careers.

That's true, Head. But the Canadiens want to return to being something special...something better than the run-of-the-mill NHL team. They want to have class again. If the Devils can let Marty Brodeur finish out his career in New Jersey and the Red Wings held onto Yzerman and Lidstrom, the Habs can show similar loyalty to a career Canadien. The team lowered itself when it let Saku Koivu walk, so giving Markov a new deal could help it redeem itself. Anyway, Markov isn't exactly Methuselah. He's looking good out there, and he's helping the team. He could certainly continue to do that while some of the younger guys are maturing. If they trade him now, who's going to take his place?

Does it matter, Heart? The Habs aren't a contender. Their window, if they have one at all, obviously is two or three years away. Markov isn't going to be part of that in any case. Who cares if he helps them get a few extra points in the regular-season standings between now and then? The return the team gets for him might just be the difference between eventually winning a Cup or not.

But, Head, should fans have to watch the team lose for two or three years before it's strong enough to make a Cup run? I don't think so. It's management's job not just to build a contender, but to make sure the fans who pay the bills get their money's worth every night. Nobody wants to watch the home team get trounced because still-useful veterans were dumped for picks and prospects.

Heart, fans just want a winner. They don't care how that happens.

No, Head. They do. They invest emotion into these players and they want to see them treated right. Who knows if anything they'd get in a trade would even pan out in the end? I say Markov should stay and finish his career in Montreal. It's the right thing to do.

Okay then, Heart. I'll play along. Markov supposedly wants three years. There's no way Bergevin can commit to that much term on an over-35 contract. I wouldn't take the risk on more than one year and neither should the Canadiens.

What about splitting the difference and giving him two years at his current salary, Head? Two years will fly by and, in the meantime, Markov can really help the team. If he's done after that, well, he'll have helped a guy like Beaulieu grow into the job. I'm not saying this just for sentimental reasons...they'd re-sign Francis Bouillon in that case...but because he's still good enough to earn his money.

Well, Heart, that's an argument I can support. One thing, though: Bergevin should sign him now. The only thing worse than holding on to a veteran after he reaches his peak value is keeping him at the deadline and then losing him for nothing in July. If Andrei Markov is still in Montreal on Wednesday night, there had better be a contract announcement before the season ends.


Anvilcloud said...

I think Heart made some pretty Heady arguments. I kind of endorse your conclusion. Either he should be signed or they should at least have good reason to believe that he will be.

Mike Safoniuk said...

Good analysis. I agree with your conclusion that if he stays it should be with an extension announced. However, I also think that if someone came knocking with a first round pick and a prospect that could step in next year I would trade him without hesitation. I like and value Markov for all the reasons you list. But for me, the bottom line is that it doesn't look like the Cup is coming home this year.

At the same time, I'd also entertain offers (but not actively shop) Gionta. I don't imagine he'll be resigned after the year so that also begs the question of who would be captain next year?

J.T. said...

@TSOC: Funny you should ask that question. I am too. Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog. :)

UK3X said...

JT - I love your arguments on both sides...but it really makes no difference who comes or who goes or who long as the coach remains the Habs are destined to be cupless

Unknown said...

Johnny Larue here from HIO, Habs have so many bad players like Gionta, Eller Bourque, DD, Parros, Boullion, we have to get rd of some dead wood, bad management here.

juce said...

I say sign him but manage his minutes, don't wear him down and give his 'mentors' more ice time to develop and let them learn from one of the best. GHG!!!