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The sans Markov era begins with a win

Many expected the Montreal Canadiens to be somewhat lackluster on Tuesday night, perhaps downtrodden due to the long absence that appears to be ahead for their best defenceman, Andrei Markov. But give the Canadiens credit, they brought their best game to the Bell Centre, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 in their first meeting since last spring’s heartbreaking playoff defeat.

Carey Price picked up where he left off against Carolina on Saturday night, making several highlight reel saves in leading the Habs to their fourth straight victory. Seriously folks, some of these were phenomenal. He has really turned a corner. And how about that, three shutouts this season for Carey Price, who previously got shutouts on a frequency comparable to appearances by Haley’s Comet. This level of goaltending is something Montreal hockey fans have not seen from Carey Price. He was good in 2008, but this is better. Carey Price is for real.

And how about Tomas Plekanec? Is it fair to say that he is now the best player on the Canadiens, and not the oft-injured Markov? Plekanec had an extremely solid game, stripping the puck off of Flyers on numerous occasions, while scoring his seventh goal of the year and adding an assist. Brian Gionta has also come to life, scoring a goal and adding two assists as he exits one of the longest droughts of his career. Mike Cammalleri also scored for Montreal, his fifth game in a row with a point.

Setting aside the Markov injury, it really does feel as if everything is coming together for the Habs. Red-hot goalie. Secondary scoring. Solid checking. Third in the NHL 18 games in isn’t bad for a team many predicted would miss the playoffs. Does 18 games a season make? No. But if their performance against the Flyers was any indication, the Montreal Canadiens are more than prepared to endure another long period without their defensive stalwart.

Much ado about Markov

In the meantime, the Habs have somewhere around Markov’s $5 million salary in extra cap-room. They had about $2 million in room before the injury, so adding Markov’s salary to that total gives Montreal approximately $7 million to work with. What to expect? There aren’t many good defencemen available as free agents, and certainly none of Markov’s calibre.

Two former Habs, Marc-Andre Bergeron and veteran Mathieu Schneider, would likely jump at the chance to join the Habs. Neither of them seems like a long-term solution, though they could help the power play short-term. However, more than a PP fix, the Habs need a solid two-way defenceman who can make crisp passes and replace Markov’s poise on the back end. I doubt Bergeron or Schneider is the answer.

As for trade possibilities, any number of names were bandied about on Montreal radio Tuesday afternoon. Bryan McCabe. Sheldon Souray. Kevin Bieksa. All are veteran defencemen with big shots and a physical edge who could help replace Markov’s work in the Habs end.

A more likely trade possibility? How about Tomas Kaberle? Brian Burke has long been interested in dealing Toronto’s prime offensive defenceman, and he would certainly fit the bill. He may not be as solid defensively, but he can certainly run the offence and make a first pass. What would it take? Burke has always said a second-line player, a prospect and a draft pick. Could he be talked down to a prospect and a draft pick? Would a third-liner do?

In the end, the Canadiens have a reputation for standing pat. And maybe they will. Pierre Gauthier isn’t exactly known for making snap decisions. Perhaps moving Ryan O’Byrne will prove fortuitous and the extra cap room will enable a blockbuster. Perhaps not (more likely not). Regardless, it will be very interesting to watch the Canadiens over the next few weeks. They’re the hottest team in hockey.

When’s the last time you could say that?

Filed in: NHL Teams, Montreal Canadiens, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: andrei+markov, brian+gionta, carey+price, tomas+plekanec

Comments

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I honestly think the Habs will need to part ways with Markov. If they do sign him, it will need to be at a reduced price. He’s too much of an injury liability to invest heavily in him. And they’ve been winning without him in the lineup.

Burke wants too much for Kaberle. I’d go after a guy like Bieksa instead. If Gauthier isn’t interested in spending at this point, he could always bring someone up from Hamilton.

Posted by Briney on 11/17/10 at 01:21 PM ET

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You may be right; however, if the injury is extremely serious, and Markov is out the rest of the year, perhaps he’d be willing to take a one year deal at a reduced salary? That may allow them to broker this period and rescue the long-term club/player relationship.

I have no doubt though that some GM out there will be willing to offer a long-term (or long-ish) deal within the $4-$5 million range. That seems to be the way it always is. I for one hope Markov sticks around, he seems to love Montreal, and the fans certainly love him.

As for replacements, we should have a firm idea on the seriousness of the injury Friday. I’m sure Gauthier and co will be brainstorming over the weekend once they know the diagnosis. If it’s the whole year, I could see them targeting Kaberle - but if he could be back in a few months, I expect they’ll try and go a cheaper route to bridge the gap. Yanick Weber would love the chance to come up and show what he’s got.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 11/18/10 at 02:01 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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