The last thing that Bob Gainey was expecting to have to deal with following his Montreal Canadiens season opening 4-3 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night was to have to sit down and figure out how his team was going to face nearly a full season without their number one defenseman.
“Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov will be sidelined for four months after undergoing surgery Thursday night in Toronto to repair a lacerated tendon in his left ankle suffered during the team’s National Hockey League season opener in Toronto.
Markov was cut on the ankle by Carey Price’s skate as the goaltender scrambled to get back into position seconds before the Maple Leafs scored their third goal of the game in the third period Thursday night.
This is the second straight game at the Air Canada Centre in which Markov has been hurt. During Montreal’s final game there last season, he was run into the boards from behind my Mikhail Grabovski, injuring his knee and forcing Markov out of action for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.”
- Kevin Mio @ HabsInside/Out.
Like a deer caught in the headlights, none of the Habs expected to enter their dressing room riding the high of an overtime win only to be shell-shocked by the news that their quaterback, their rock on the blue line, was going to be missing in action for unkown period of time. In the moments following the game not much was known as to Markov’s status, only that he had been taken to hospital to receive tratment and evaluation. It was not until this morning that the news which has crushed all Hab fans hearts has emerged.
As for Andrei Markov, he is going to need to be very careful in how he rehabilitates from this serious injury. Outside of being an All-Star NHL’er and the face of the Montreal Canadiens, he is slated to be the premiere defenseman for the Russian Olympic Team at the Vancouver Games in February. Given that the current timetable has Andrei recovering just in time for the Games, one has to wonder not only how his absence will affect the Habs but also how it will affect the Russians if he cannot play. Many will be watching as Andrei rehabs, but probably not as many as Habs GM Bob Gainey.
The question now is, how long does Bob wait to do something about the gaping void on his blue line?
The reality is that he equipped his defensive corps to be rugged and capable, ready to face almost any task. Yet I highly doubt that this was ever one of the conceived emergency situations.
Nonetheless, Gainey did bring in Jaroslav Spacek, a defender who is extremely capable of shouldering the load of a top pairing defender as he proved with his play in Buffalo over the last few seasons. He is capable of eating up large amounts of ice-time, playing in both powerplay and shorthanded situations as well as being capable of putting up decent offensive numbers. Although Spacek was paired with Markov on the top pairing in Toronto on Thursday night, the reality was that he was playing on the right side, something he had never really done until he joined the Canadiens. Perhaps, now that Markov is injured, head coach Jacques Martin may be more inclined to let Jaro return to his normal spot on the left side and give the newcomer a shot at being the team’s #1.
Although giving Spacek a chance to be the team’s top blueliner alongside Roman Hamrlik(who will make his season debut tonight versus Buffalo) will be coaching and management’s top priority for the time being, it won’t be long before Gainey will decide if he will need to pull the trigger.
Paul Mara, Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, Ryan O’Byrne and Yannick Weber will all need to step up to support what is now Montreal’s top pairing of Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik, but considering the Habs have a long road ahead of them, the safe bet is that this group will have an excellent chance to gel and become a solid defensive unit. That is not to say that the Habs current bunch of healthy defenseman aren’t without their flaws, but they are all capable NHL defenders and, most importantly, they are all on a fresh start, including netminder Carey Price.
And that is what may salvage this early season disaster.
Considering that this team has been completely reconstructed over the off-season, who’s to say that this team won’t find a chemistry and dynamic that the Montreal locker room has not seen in over a decade?
The general consensus out of camp was that the players were all getting along much better than they were at the same time the year before and that those Habs who weren’t swept away in the summertime cleansing felt a serious change in the atmosphere. There are new leaders on this club and the key in overcoming this current challenge may lie in the new leadership and new faces that dot the Habs roster.
One of the major concerns moving forward for the Habs, as many fans are gong to point out, is the fact that Markov was the team’s best player and their power play quaterback. Not to mention the fact that he is an elite defender and first team All-Star of Norris Trophy caliber.
Defense wise, as I mentioned above, Gainey has assembled a concrete defensive corps that is likely going to be given chacne to play through Markov’s absence as a group.
In order to replace the offensive impact that Markov brought to the Habs, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, aka “the smurf line”, are going to have to provide even more scoring than previously expected.
It’s expected that the defensemen will be able to shoulder the load, yet there are serious doubts and reservations as to if and how the Canadiens offense will manage without Markov, and most especially, what will become of team’s power play?
Before Andrei went down in the first game of the season I felt that the Montreal Canadiens were a top 6 forward away from entering the realm of contenders. Now that Markov has once again fallen prey to the ACC’s Hab-kryptonite, I believe the Habs need that top 6 forward more than ever.
Adding a top 6 forward to the Canadiens roster seems to always be a popular trend in internet rumors, but the reality is that since the news of Markov’s injury has come out, those rumors will now carry more weight with them. The Canadiens have been tied to the Sharks, Kings and Hawks in regard to all sorts of various possible moves over the last few months and, although many are simply shot in the dark offers that come from unknown parts, one would have to believe that hidden among all the rumors are some truths.
As far as trade options go, Sergei Kostitsyn has not made a case for himself in recent days. The young Belarussian’s demand for a trade highlights concerns over certain remaining members of the Habs who do not seem to have found a comfortable place with the team. Mainly Tomas Plekanec, Jarsolav Halak and the 2 Kostitsyn brothers. These players have never truly fit the mold of the Habs rebuild and now that the team has changed its image and dynamic, there may no longer be room for these 4. If anything, they provide Gainey with interesting bargaining chips if he does indeed seek help via the trade market.
Bob Gainey can always turn his attention to the free-agent market in order to replace Markov, perhaps by offering an unsigned player like Marc-Andre Bergeron a one year deal to come help the Habs out on the powerplay.
Whether it’s to be a trade or a possible signing, Martin and Gainey are going to sit tight until the Canadiens return home from their current 5 game road trip before they even contemplate making a move. In all reality, they may even wait until the team is 15-20 games into the season. The real test will lie in how in how the new defense corps will handle themselves in the next few weeks. If they prove to be solid and are handling the duties of protecting Price and helping the team win games, there may be no need to pursue a replacement for Markov.
Of course that is a best case scenario, but even if the D can handle the responsibility, I still firmly believe that is well within Bob Gainey’s best interests as General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens to spend the money that will be freed up by having Markov salary placed on the LTIR. Whether that comes by taking on salary in a trade or by signing a current free agent, Gainey must be proactive in continuing to add to the new face of the team.
The bottom line to the stunning news of Andrei Markov’s injury and his projected absence of nearly 5 months from the Canadiens lineup is that with 81 games remaining in the 2009-10 season, Bob Gainey has plenty of time to figure things out.
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