Francois Beauchemin (Photo by Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

by Matt Smith, Staff Writer/Social Media Specialist, All Habs Hockey Magazine

I thought the day would never come, but unfortunately it took place last month, as the Montreal Canadiens announced that veteran defenseman, Andrei Markov, would not return for the 2017-2018 season.

Markov will turn 39-years-old in December, and it had been reported that he had initially  requested a two-year contract worth $12 million while representing himself throughout contract negotiations. As the process moved along, Markov himself said that he would have signed a one-year deal to stay with the Canadiens.

Selected in the sixth round (162nd overall) during the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, Markov appeared in 990 games, all with the Canadiens. He scored 119 goals, and added 453 assists for 572 points, tied for second all-time amongst Canadiens defenders with Guy Lapointe.

Canadiens president and CEO, Geoff Molson released the following statement on Markov’s departure:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defenseman in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Markov said he is not closing the door on a return to the Montreal Canadiens or the National Hockey League for the 2018-19 season.

“Those 16 years were a big part of my life. I will never forget my time here,” Markov said. “I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team. I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

This news is understandably a shock to Canadiens fans, who, like myself, believed Markov would finish his career a member of the Montreal Canadiens. I looked forward to seeing him join Henri Richard, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Jean Beliveau, and Claude Provost this season, as the only players to play 1000 games as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

Habs fans wish Andrei Markov all the best as his career will continue in the Kontinental Hockey League. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to see him play once again during the 2018 Olympics.

His departure leaves a gap on the left side, and is a major loss to the Habs first power-play unit. It is uncertain at this point if Marc Bergevin has an additional deal lined up or if he is satisfied with the additions he has made to the defense after adding Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, Joe Morrow, Mark Streit, and Jakub Jerabek.

With just over $8.4M in cap space available, there is money available to sign unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) or make a trade. I would expected the unexpected after the moves that have been made this offseason.

The following defenseman are currently without a contract and could be options on the Canadiens blue-line for the 2017-2018 season. 

Cody Franson, Defense, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
August 8, 1987 | Sicamous, British Columbia, Canada
6-5, 224 lbs. | Shoots Right
2016-17 Stats | 3 Goals, 16 Assists, 19 Points

Cody Franson is coming off a two-year, $6.65 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. A right handed shooting defenseman with size, Franson is capable of playing the body, as well as moving the puck. Franson will be 30 once the 2017-18 season begins and still has fuel in the tank to be an effective defender at the NHL level, but is more than likely suited for a 5/6 pairing with offensive upside.

In terms of a contract, the dollar amount should come relatively cheap as his numbers with the Sabres weren’t off the charts, and he did miss time due to injuries during both seasons. His last contract was not signed until September, so perhaps he is just waiting for the right deal before putting pen to paper.

Franson is a player Marc Bergevin has tried to acquire in the past, but Josh Gorges invoked his no-trade clause cancelling the transaction to the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, Gorges was traded to the Buffalo Sabres soon after.

In mid-July, it was reported that Franson could join the Chicago Blackhawks on a professional try-out (PTO) if he fails to sign a contract elsewhere. As a veteran of 527 regular season games, with plenty of size, he could be worth taking a shot at on a one-year contract.

Francois Beauchemin, Defense, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
June 4, 1980 | Sorel, Quebec, Canada
6-1, 207 lbs. | Shoots Left
2016-17 Stats | 5 Goals, 13 Assists, 18 Points

Selected in the third round, 75th overall during the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, Beauchemin would suit up for just one game with the Canadiens on February 27, 2003 against the Minnesota Wild. On September 14, 2004 he was placed on waivers by the Canadiens and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Due to the NHL lockout however, he suited up for their AHL affiliate for the 2004-05 season.

The veteran of 836 regular season games who has played for for Montreal, Columbus, Anaheim, Toronto and Colorado was bought out of his contract prior to the NHL Expansion Draft.

The 37-year-old scored five goals, and added 13 assists in 81 games with the last place Colorado Avalanche last season. He finished third on the team in time on ice with 21:31 and was one of only three players to dress in 80 or more games, the others being Nathan MacKinnon and Carl Soderberg.

The fact Beauchemin was bought out by the worst team in the league last season could be a red flag, but the Avalanche are in disarray at the moment, and a fresh start on a new team could be just what he needs.

Chris Lee, Defense, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
October 3, 1980 | MacTier, Ontario, Canada
5-11, 185 lbs. | Shoots Left
2016-17 Stats | 14 Goals, 51 Assists, 65 Points

Chris Lee has been one of the most offensively dynamic defencemen in the KHL over the past four seasons, scoring 44 goals and 179 points in 227 games. This season, Lee scored 14 goals, adding 51 assists for 65 points, finishing first in points among defencemen, and sixth overall in the league.

His 65 points were 27 points more than the next highest scoring defenceman, Matt Gilroy, who had 38 points, and 31 more points than Habs free agent signing, Jakub Jerabek, who finished fifth. His 65 points would also set a KHL record for points by a defenseman.

His name should sound recognizable, particularly amongst Canadian hockey fans, as Chris Lee was the only non-NHL player to suit up for Team Canada at the latest World Hockey Championships. In seven games with Team Canada, he would pick up two assists, and a silver medal.

Canadian World Championship assistant GM (and Montreal Canadians scout), Sean Burke, had the following to say about Lee:

“Chris has found his game later. He never had an NHL career. He came over to Europe and came into his own. He’s smart and he can handle the puck. On the big ice, when you’ve got those skills and you’ve got the head for the game, it’s a nice combination. He’s a great skater. He’s a real power-play specialist. I don’t say that in a negative way because sometimes that can conjure up an image of a guy who can’t play in his own end.”

Jon Cooper, coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and coach of Team Canada also had encouraging words regarding Lee:

“Lee fit. You wouldn’t have thought he wasn’t an NHL player.”

Undrafted, and at 6-foot, 185-pounds, he is nowhere close to being a behemoth by any standard. Lee won’t destroy oncoming players with open-ice hits, but he would bring the puck skills required to succeed at the NHL level, specifically to a team like the Canadiens, who could use a little more punch when it comes to scoring overall.

That said, adding Lee to the roster could make winning come that much easier to the Canadiens, especially when you have the best goaltender in the world giving you a chance each and every game.

The biggest question surrounding Chris Lee is whether a team, such as the Montreal Canadiens, would be willing to give up a roster spot to a player who is already 36-years-old, with zero NHL experience. However, with the numbers he’s produced overseas, he could be a low-risk, low-cost, high reward player for a team lacking scoring. He would also more than likely come cheaper than any UFA defenceman available.

A PTO could be a great option to see what Lee could bring to the Canadiens blueline. In my opinion, it is one that Marc Bergevin should inquire about in the near future, if he doesn’t outright offer the KHL all-star and two-time Gagarin Cup champion a one-year contract before training camp begins.

Other options include: Dennis Wideman (Flames), Roman Polak (Maple Leafs), Simon Despres (Ducks) and Eric Gelinas (Avalanche).

In closing, the only defenseman that was available via free agency that the Montreal Canadiens could have signed, that would have offered them offensive help, leadership and top four minutes has officially parted ways with the organization.

With Andrei Markov no longer an option for the 2017-2018 season, it is up to Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens to find a way to play without him.