MONTREAL, QC. — With the free agent market as active as ever in the last two weeks, we’ve decided to have another All Habs Faceoff. Two of this season’s Canadiens defencemen, Andrei Markov and James Wisniewski, faced free agency and were expecting salaries in a similar range. Here lies the question: If you were Pierre Gauthier and had to choose, who would you sign? Markov or Wisniewski?
Rookie: Team Markov
I’m not sure why so many Habs fans were willing to abandon their loyalty to Andrei Markov so quickly. With all due respect to James Wisniewski, there aren’t many players that I would want to see as Habs if it meant giving up Markov, who is still arguably the best player currently under contract with the Canadiens.
Markov has been the core of the Canadiens’ defence for the last few seasons, particularly since Sheldon Souray’s departure. It would be difficult to imagine the team without him, even after his prolonged absence this season. It would also be in poor taste to let go of a career Canadien just because he’s injury-prone, without knowing how well he’s recovered or what kind of role he’ll be able to assume next season. I won’t say that I would have offered him the same salary that he made last season, but it would have been a terrible idea to let him go..
Wisniewski’s work as a Hab this season has been impressive, but I don’t think I would want the team to rely on him for many seasons to come and I don’t see him being the “core” of this team defensively. The Canadiens were built around Andrei Markov, and there are some roster spots to be filled right now, but it wouldn’t be worth rebuilding the team around Wisniewski just because Markov isn’t the player he used to be. Markov will continue to be good for a few seasons, even if he doesn’t meet the standard he has set for himself. P.K. Subban is improving with every game, and will be the team’s most important defenceman before you know it.
There just isn’t any room for a player making the salary that Wisniewski is likely to make when he signs his next contract if he’s not the most important defenceman on the team. He would be a great addition to the team for a short period of time, but the team couldn’t and shouldn’t offer him the high-priced long-term contract he’s looking for. Focusing on Markov, Gorges, and Subban is far more important than keeping Wisniewski.
So Stevo, what do you think?
Stevo: Team Wisniewski
Well Rookie, I don’t believe it was ever a matter of wanting to abandon loyalty to Markov. He has been a great defenseman for the Canadiens, and for many years, but I would argue that having played only 52 games in the last two seasons, he was not present enough to be considered the core of this defense. Not in these last two seasons at least, and the the Canadiens did prove that they can be successful without him.
That being said, a healthy Markov is tremendous for the Habs, he is amongst the best in the league, and I wouldn’t want to come across as someone who doesn’t realize what Markov does and can bring to the table, when he’s healthy.
I do however also realize what James Wisniewski brings to the table. While Markov can quarterback the power-play, ironically, it is Wisniewski who can throw bombs like Tom Brady from the blue line. Not only can he bring it in the form of a very dangerous slap shot, he attracts so much attention from the opposing team when he’s stationed in the offensive zone, that this creates openings for other players. You could argue that’s also the case for Markov.
It is therefore safe to say that both are offensively gifted. Markov does however have an edge over Wisniewski is the defensive game, which is very lacking in Wiz’s case. Although Markov has the edge in defensive play, Wisniewski makes up for it with grittiness and toughness, which Markov doesn’t have.
How so? Just ask Shane Doan who was once knocked silly when he decided to cross the blue line on Wisniewski’s side, with his head looking down at the puck. Let’s just say he [Doan] had Bambi legs skating back to the bench. His toughness is also reflected by his tally of 19 NHL fights over five seasons, compared to Markov, who has one single NHL fight his entire career, it was against Spezza, and neither of them landed a single punch.
I would never expect nor want Markov to fight, however many including myself would argue that the Habs need added toughness, need some gritty players who don’t mind getting their nose dirty, and that’s exactly what Wisniewski was able to bring to the table.
While I do understand the scenario of being able to sign both Markov and Wisniewski was close to impossible, I also wonder just how much Pierre Gauthier explored that possibility, or whether he even made any offer at all to the Wisniewski camp. I digress.
Overall, I simply feel that the Habs are already in a transition period with regards to their defensive core, which is slowly being transitioned to P.K. Subban. I also feel that for the couple of years into this transition, players like Gill, Gorges and the apprentice Subban could have managed the situation very well.
What’s done is done, I’m not sad to see Markov signed with the Habs, although I do question the contract, but I am not pleased to see Wisniewski leave, as I felt he brought a lot to the Habs, a lot of what is still missing on this team.