PENTICTON, BC. — This past summer, after meeting with the team’s doctors, Pierre Gauthier took a leap of faith when he signed his 32-year-old star defenseman Andrei Markov to a three year, $17.25 million contract.
When healthy, most would agree that Markov is a huge piece of the puzzle for the Canadiens as he plays in every game situation and he sees the ice like few can do. The problem is that he is not healthy and if we take a step back in time, in an attempt to look at the whole picture, it seems like there is something not quite right with this whole situation.
We all recall the fluke incident when Markov suffered a lacerated ankle injury after colliding with Carey Price’s skate on October 1st, 2009. He came back just in time to get a few games in before the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Fans will remember the controversy that followed when Markov did not play in an important weekend series against the Philadelphia Flyers, only to be on the ice for Team Russia’s practice the very next day.
Then on April 30, 2010, the defenseman suffered a knee injury which required surgery to repair a torn ligament, procedure performed on May 19th by Dr. Anthony Miniaci. It goes without saying that the injury not only ended Markov’s season, but it also dimmed the Canadiens’ chances to make a serious push in the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak’s heroics aside.
After missing the first ten games of the season, Markov made a comeback in late October last year, playing in only seven games before re-injuring the same knee, ending once again his season. This time, the unrestricted free agent to be and the Canadiens turned to one of the best surgeons in pro sports, having Dr. James Andrews perform the delicate operation in Alabama on December 8, 2010.
Markov was scheduled to become a UFA on July 1 and both parties had stated all along wanting to get a deal done. After meeting with the Habs’ highly touted medical team, Gauthier stuck his neck out by signing Markov to a three year deal worth $5.75M per season. The length of the contract rose more than a few eyebrows in the hockey world considering the nature of the injuries and the risk involved, questioning if the former all-star defenseman could ever return to form. After all, Markov had only played 56 games, playoffs included, in the last two years and most felt like a short term deal would have been preferable, as they did with Josh Gorges.
Up until the team’s annual golf tournament, both Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin mentioned publicly being confident about their star defenseman’s likeliness to be ready on time to start the season or soon after until reports began surfacing that Markov had to have water removed from his injured knee. At about the same time, a a fan took a picture of Markov at the airport waiting to take a plane to Florida, forcing the mainstream media to question the defenseman’s status. The news came that Markov was originally scheduled to meet with Dr. Andrews in Florida and stay for a week, which then turned into two weeks, and it wasn’t until three weeks later than the Russian defenseman finally made his way back to Montreal.
I have absolutely no doubt that Pierre Gauthier, before signing Markov this summer, was provided with medical information reassuring him of the player’s health status. It is also quite noticeable that management seems to be a bit uncomfortable, irked and/or impatient when the Markov topic is being brought up. It could be that they don’t have a clear answer and they simply don’t know what to say anymore, but it is also possible that there is more to this story than what meets the eye. The timeline for Markov’s return is now set to early December. Time will tell.
While I don’t question his desire to play for the Canadiens, I am personally not sold on Andrei Markov when it comes to his true dedication. It really rubbed me the wrong way when he took that time off prior to the Olympics while not missing a beat for Team Russia, as I felt like if he made a great living in hockey, it was due to his NHL cheques coming in. And I find that something is not quite right with this whole knee injury and rehab, including the contract signing. Whether it’s a medical issue with conflicting doctors’ reports, or if Markov wasn’t being totally truthful about his health prior to signing, or if management feels like Markov is in no hurry to come back (right or wrong), it just seems like things don’t add up.
Here’s hoping however that the Canadiens can not only count on Markov in their line-up sooner rather than later, but also that he can remain healthy and get back to the level of play he’s being paid for.