SAINT-LAZARE, QC.–At an informal press gathering, just before their tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens announced that their All-Star defenseman, Andrei Markov, would be absent for a “prolonged” and “indefinite” period of time.
While some media outlets reported that Markov suffered a partial ACL tear where a graft was already performed in his right knee over the summer, others refuse to speculate as to the severity of the injury. Some have even insisted that Markov was perhaps rushed back into the lineup, because of the difficulties the Habs had early on with their powerplay production.
Whatever the case, Markov will be visiting Dr. Anthony Miniaci at the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Center to get a definitive answer. Minaci is the same orthopaedic surgeon (originally from Toronto), who performed Markov’s surgery last April. According to Coach Jacques Martin, the Canadiens won’t be making any decisions until the weekend.
Regardless of the severity of Markov’s knee injury, the situation sounds like Armageddon, as far as the Canadiens’ blue line is concerned. It remains that the Habs’ most offensive rearguard will be out for long term and it has sparked incredible speculation involving both traditional and new media as to what lies ahead for Canadiens’ General Manager Pierre Gauthier and his staff. If Gauthier decides to put Markov on the long-term disabled list, it will free up some valuable cap space, something the Canadiens were not expecting. That may make his moves a little bit more interesting.
Gauthier’s options will be determined by the remaining players on the Habs’ roster. Depending on their success or failure, he may be able to take advantage of a horrible situation to address some of the needs the hockey club is facing.
While there isn’t an abundance of free agent players available at this juncture of the season, there is the ongoing debate about who can play the left wing (or right) on the Scott Gomez line. While Andrei Kostitsyn is playing well, given Gomez’s shortcomings so far this season, the idea of having Maxim Lapierre on the right wing isn’t a viable solution. Although Lapierre does bring a physical dimension to the line, his lack of finesse and playmaking ability hurts both Gomez and Kostitsyn.
Thoughts have surfaced about Miroslav Satan and Bill Guerin being players that may be of interest. As far as speed is concerned, Satan can definitely keep up with numbers 11 and 46, but Guerin’s lack of it might hurt the line, as opposed to bolstering it. And isn’t there a youngster by the name of Lars Eller on the current roster who may be able to fit the bill? With Kostitsyn’s experience as a right winger, this could be an opportune moment to have him develop as a left winger on the second line, while providing him with the necessary minutes to do so.
Meanwhile, in recent games, the Canadiens have shown improvement where their powerplay is concerned. While they did go 2-for-7 with the man advantage on Tuesday night, their powerplay is starting to show vast improvement from the beginning of the season. Still, they might be in the market for a defenseman with an offensive upside, and heavy shot, to help increase those numbers.
For some, the answer to that question would be Marc-Andre Bergeron. While Bergeron does possess a cannon from the point, there are many deficiencies to his game. He is very weak as far as defensive zone coverage is concerned, and he lacks the hockey sense to effectively quarterback a powerplay unit.
Sheldon Souray, currently under contract with the Edmonton Oilers but playing with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, is another whose name has surfaced. He is a similar player to Bergeron where defensive liability is concerned, but can play a more physical game and has better aptitude as a passer than Bergeron. Souray would, however, be a long shot to acquire. He would first have to clear re-entry waivers, then he would be available to all the NHL teams with weaker records than the Canadiens. Considering some of the difficulties other teams are facing, it would be unlikely for Souray to ever get into the Habs’ radar.
There are also the players currently with the Hamilton Bulldogs, like Yannick Weber and Alex Henry. Both showed very well during training camp and Weber currently leads the Bulldogs with eight goals (four of which came with the man-advantage.) Henry could bring a physical element to the Canadiens’ defense.
So what will Pierre Gauthier do? It’s hard to say. With the team’s current success, it’s difficult to gauge where the Canadiens are really lacking. And with a hot goaltender like Carey Price, it becomes even more difficult. In my opinion, I would hold onto that valuable cap room created by the Markov injury, and use this opportunity to develop some of the organization’s younger players. While Coach Jacques Martin doesn’t necessarily give his rookies too much ice time, the Canadiens are rarely in a position to develop players at the NHL level in a positive environment.
And if the Canadiens continue to play like this over the course of the next two months, come March, they may be able to get a “rent-a-player” at the trade deadline, a luxury they haven’t had in quite some time.
Buckle up, people. With all the speculation that will be floating around over the next few weeks, you can be sure that anything can happen. Especially in a hockey crazed city like Montreal.
(Feature Image by Richard Wolowicz / Getty Images)
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