Thursday, July 17, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Andrei Markov

The numbers

82 GP: 16 G, 42 A, 58 Pts, 63 PIM, +1, 145 Shots

Career best year
This season

2007-08 playoffs
12 GP: 1 G, 3 A, 4 Pts, 8 PIM, E, 21 Shots

Career best playoffs – 2003-04
11 GP: 1 G, 4 A, 5 Pts, 8 PIM, +3, 18 Shots

Plays of the game: 11

Game pucks: 6

Domes: 59

3 Star selections: 2 First, 2 Second, 3 Third

The story

Where he started the season
Coming into this year Andrei must have been really pleased with himself. He, along with Souray and Rivet (2 other long-term mainstays on the Habs blue-line) were all coming up to unrestricted free-agency on July 1, 2007. Of the 3, I think it was blatantly obvious that Markov was the standout, but after the season that Souray had and the fact that both Souray and Rivet wore 'A's it was really anyone's guess who they would keep. The general feeling was that we certainly couldn't keep all 3 and that keeping 2 would also be a huge burden financially. With Rivet out of the picture in February (via a trade), it was down to the big shot of Souray or the Norris-style defence of Andrei. To approval of Lions in Winter bloggers and readers alike, Gainey's first target was Markov. He re-signed him in May without ever letting him become a free agent. The writing from that point was on the wall as we essentially let Souray walk without ever offering him as much as other teams were willing to pay.

This vote confidence, coupled with the fact that Andrei had just put up a career-best 49 points, must have made his summer a very enjoyable one. When he came to camp he knew that he now was officially our top defenceman (after many seasons of unofficial dominance), that we wanted him here for years and that he would be the all-important (and now undisputed) quarter-back of the PP. During the preseason, he played very well and even wore the 'A' on some nights showing that he was our alternates' alternate. Things at this point could not have gotten any better for the man who could still barely speak English, but was probably the most promising of a new wave of puck-moving defencemen in the league.

The season
One of the biggest worries coming into this year was how we were going to replace Souray's shot on the powerplay. Would we be good enough to stay among the league's best in that category? Or, would we return to earth?

I think that all these questions were answered very early on this year as the line 'Sheldon who?' was the catch phrase of the city for most of the Fall. Markov, along with a few other key players, upped their game to new levels on the PP and if you would believe it kept it just as potent and made it so much more dynamic. In fact, the absence of that go-to shot meant the other players, and especially Andrei, could showcase their own talent so much more. Markov's job changed from being the guy who fed Souray's rocket to being the guy who could find anyone (most often that was Kovy) at any time on the ice. Markov and company kept up the strong play on the powerplay for the entire season and they ended up finishing first in the league in that category.

Overall, Andrei's season was one of consistency and excellence. He started the year with 17 points in his first 19 games giving us all dreams of a 70-point season. In the end he would slow down a bit, but still finished with career highs in both goals (16) and points (58). With Markov, however, it is about so much more than the points as he once again was our best defensive-defenceman this year. More importantly, he provides the impetus for so much of the team's progressive play, as he can skate the puck up on his own, make an 80-foot pass or provide timely cover for someone else jumping into the play. His sense for the game and (finally) the team's sense of his play combine to make the Canadiens an offensive power in the league.

In addition to the team's success, Marky also enjoyed another major achievement this year – getting named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and garnering the highest vote-getter of all defencemen in the East. Finally, it appears, the rest of the league (and its fans) are seeing what we have seen for years - Markov is one of the best around D-men, in all apsects of play. This year he was a top-5 defencemen in the league and top-2 in the East. He is our best blue-liner since Chelios and is a huge reason for all of the success we enjoyed this year.

Highlights: Watching these makes me wonder how Markov only got 2 First star selections – astounding

Markov by the numbers:

Lions' links on Markov:
What do the 2007/8 Canadiens need?
New Canadiens website
The Habs future and the two Andreis – Part 1: Andrei the First
How the Habs keep powering their PP
What's right for Price?
Why 79 trumps 71
Force of Nature Kovalev for Hart Consideration – Gretzky
Hart Trophy Follow-up: Offense vs. Defense
Experts Share More Wisdom
Round 1: Montreal - Boston (Habs Preview)
Sporting News: Habs Players Snubbed

Grade: A+
Andrei had a career-year this year, which must have been hard to do considering how good he had been in previous seasons. At only 29 years of age, you can be certain that Markov is still improving and that the best is still to come. Defencemen, unlike forwards, often don't reach their best until their mid-30s so you can see why we are so excited to have Markov on our team. I could see the Russian superstar playing for another 10-15 years in this league and would expect him to be as good as he is now (or better) for most of those years.

This year, I felt he really took on a big leadership role and it was obvious that he was our leader at the back. No longer were youngsters such as Komisarek following in the footsteps of Souray or Rivet, they were now following Andrei. I am positive that the improved play of Komisarek, Bouillon, Gorges and Streit is due in no small part to Markov's leadership. I am not sure how much he talks (although I do notice it is more than before), but if you ever needed someone to lead by example, he is your man. His only rough patch of the year came in the playoffs where he only managed 4 points. That stat in itself isn't too poor, but it was the way in which he played during the whole playoffs that stood out. Like so many other Habs players (defencemen in particular), Andrei, didn't elevate his game. He showed up every night and did a lot of good things, but he wasn't in the super elite class of players (like he was for most of the season) during this time. This is one area that Markov (and the team as a whole) must address if they wish to go any further than the 2nd round in this coming season.

Where we'd have him next season
Not much should change for Markov this year as his responsibilites should remain the same. He will undoubtedly be paired with Komi again at the back as their tandem is becoming one of the league's best. On the PP he will have to find a new partner at the point as Streit's departure has left a hole at that spot. Streit, to me, was more valuable to the PP than Souray was so it will be interesting to see if we can, for a second year in a row, manage to stay at the top after losing a huge piece. That piece may or may not come from within the current team as we still have a long time to make that call and possibly make another move. I wouldn't be surprised if Markov once again hit career-highs in certain areas as his play really shows no signs of slowing down. He looked very comfortable at the back all season long as the blue line in Montreal now, finally, belongs to him.

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