November 15, 2010

Marky Markov and the Habs' Funky Short-on-Defensemen Situation

Everything was going so right for the Montreal Canadiens... the team was winning, Scott Gomez finally put himself on pace for a seven-goal season, and even everyone’s favourite whipping boy in Carey Price was stringing together a few performances worthy of the NHL’s first star of the week (which he got awarded on Monday). And then this.

Now comes news that Andrei Markov will be out anywhere from one game to three months to the end of time, which, if you haven’t seen the movie, is apparently in just two years’ time (and the Toronto Maple Leafs were sooo close to winning it all again!).

Now, Markov hasn’t been the team’s best defenseman in a good, long while (that distinction probably belongs to Josh Gorges), especially with the recent rash of lower-body injuries, but he is its most talented, and to lose him for three months would be a huge blow to a team that has gotten a lot of heads shaking so far this year (shaking as if saying: “No. NO! There’s no way in hell this run of luck will continue all-season long for this team of dwarves! There’s just no way!”).

However many non-believers are shaking their heads, the Habs have found themselves in a very difficult predicament. I’m not going to get into how they traded away Ryan O’Byrne last week, because let’s face it: implying O’Byrne could come in cold and even carry Markov’s jock is like saying Brent Gretzky could have put on his brother’s jersey way back when and no one would have been able to tell the difference. O’Byrne’s size (6’5”, 234 pounds) is not a factor, because the two are very different players. One is a good all-around defenseman, unfortunately entering the twilight of his career a few years too early, while the other is barely worth the amount of money it takes to put his name on the back of a jersey.

As such, rumours have been swirling that the Habs are in the market for Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. While I would have been the first to discredit these rumours last week with the Habs boasting an unflashy, but solid top-six, I will also be one of the first to admit that things have changed drastically. So, the Canadiens are in a position where they need a defenseman, any defenseman... sorry, any capable defenseman (to exclude O’Byrne), to take Markov’s place, and if Bieksa is that guy (not even close, but for the sake of the argument let’s assume he is), so be it.

It’s no secret that the Canucks have a surplus of defenseman with an otherwise top-pairing guy like Keith Ballard being a healthy scratch last week (ironically against Montreal). Of course, Ballard hasn’t been good enough thanks to recent surgery and will reportedly sit again tonight for the fourth-straight game on Monday. This again changes things, with the Canucks perhaps no longer willing to let Bieksa go.

If that is the case, other possible avenues are in short supply, with Marc-Andre Bergeron representing the most viable option, with him having signed last year for $750,000 and the Habs now having over $1.5 million in cap space. Of course, this is a less-than-ideal scenario with Bergeron being a one-trick pony that has been so ineffective at selling his services on the street corner that he probably couldn’t give it away at this point. But it is something. And then there’s Mathieu Schneider, who at this point is like Bergeron but with even less mobility... clearly a free-agent purchase aimed towards the fickle consumer in your life who has a fetish for golden-agers... and not the Habs, who are searching for a way to replace arguably their best player.
"It's alright dude (patting him on head). You'll get one soon."

So, where does that leave the Habs? Either putting their season squarely on the shoulders of Carey Price, which is a bad idea, or making an ill-advised trade with the Edmonton Oilers for Sheldon Souray, which is a worse bad idea. But, as for the salary going the other way, I do hear Gomez will still probably end up with fewer goals this season than the injured AHLer. Bottom line: I wouldn’t want to be Pierre Gauthier right now (but, really, when have I ever?). Good luck, dude.

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