25 Canadiens in 25 days: Andrei Markov

Andrei Markov (CP)

We’re taking a closer look at Andrei Markov in the sixth installment of our 25 Montreal Canadiens in 25 days series.

He’s Montreal’s elder statesman, a veteran of 14 NHL seasons — all of them spent with the Canadiens.

With two years remaining on his contract and the Canadiens expected to contend for the Stanley Cup in both of them, the 36-year-old Markov projects to be one of the few players who spends their entire career with one organization.

An introvert by nature, Markov prefers to do his talking with his play on the ice. The personality that’s lacking in his deadpan interviews tends to shine through when he’s in his comfort zone.

Markov is really at home when he’s pushing the play out of his own end with precise breakout passes, setting up plays in the offensive zone with extraordinary peripheral vision, and scoring important goals with his underrated shot.

He’s been a superstar defenceman through most of his NHL career and his advanced age doesn’t appear to be slowing him down at all.

Who: Andrei Markov | No. 79 | Mid/Top-pair defenceman (left) | 6-feet | 197 pounds | Age: 36

Acquired: 1998 NHL Draft (Round 6, 162nd overall)

Contract status: Three years, $5.75M AAV (expires 2017)

2014-15 Stats: 81 GP | 10 G | 40 A | 50 P | 24:54 TOI | 50.7 CF%

Career stats: 846 GP | 108 G | 384 A | 492 P | 22:32 TOI | 49.2 CF%

The book on 2014-15:
It’s impossible to look at Markov’s 2014-15 regular season stats and conclude he was any less effective than we was in his best NHL years.

He scored 10 goals, added 40 assists, and produced half of his points on the power play. At plus-22, rocking a 50.7 corsi for percentage at even strength, Markov dictated play at both ends of the ice. And he proved remarkably durable by not missing a single game to injury, while logging the third-highest average ice time of his career – most of which was against the opposition’s best players.

His performance earned the Canadiens’ nomination for the Bill Masterton Trophy.

Some will argue Markov’s consistency in 2014-15 was merely the by-product of spending most of his ice time alongside P.K. Subban, but that discredits Markov’s notoriously strong conditioning and the superior anticipation ability that has always made him a play-driver.

It also fails to explain how Markov, who was so good in the regular season, could fall so far short of expectations in the playoffs.

In the post-season, Markov struggled to produce (one goal and one assist in 12 games) and wasn’t reliable enough in his own end. His 53.2 corsi for percentage at even strength wasn’t representative of his uncharacteristically sloppy puck management at critical junctures of games, and his lack of speed was definitely exposed — especially when the Canadiens lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 2.

Did the 24 regular season games in which Markov eclipsed 26 minutes in ice time empty his tank before the real work got underway? Did averaging two and a half minutes per game on the penalty kill tire him out? There’s merit to those assumptions, given that Markov admitted he was fully healthy in the post-season.

But, burnout isn’t the only viable explanation for Markov’s shortcoming in the playoffs. Historically, he’s left much to be desired at crunch time, posting just 31 points in 83 games.

As a result, the fall off in Markov’s effectiveness between the regular and post-season makes it hard to stamp his 2014-15 campaign a complete success.

Off-season updates:
After a two-week stint visiting family in Russia, Markov retreated to his off-season home in Florida.

He returned to Montreal in July to train with former Canadiens strength and conditioning coach Scott Livingston.

“Scott has great experience working with many different athletes, in many sports,” Markov told the Montreal Gazette earlier this summer. “Whatever he does with my program, I like it. I feel strong and comfortable.”

2015-16 outlook:
Relegation to more of a support role on the Canadiens blueline could only help Markov carry his regular season effectiveness into the 2016 playoffs.

And though Markov won’t entirely take a back seat to Jeff Petry and Subban this season, by allowing those two and the remaining Montreal defenders to bear the brunt of penalty-killing responsibilities, Markov would be preserved for more important late-season and post-season play.

Markov should also play a pivotal role in helping the Canadiens revive a power play that flat-lined for most of 2014-15 (ranked 23rd in the regular season and second-worst of the 16 teams in the playoffs).

The main objective for Markov is to remain healthy and maintain high productivity. As one of the team’s associate captains, he’s also expected to help emerging defencemen Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn.

If Markov can finally break his pattern of spotty playoff contributions, it would go a long way toward helping the Canadiens take one more step towards the Stanley Cup. To do that, he’ll have to be used in different ways through this season.