I've been pondering the question all day, and I've come to he conclusion that Andrei Markov cannot be replaced.
I'm not talking about his value to the Canadiens, his poise with the puck, his vision of the ice, his incredible ability to hold the offensive blueline, his magic on the power play or his underrated defensive instincts. No, those things could obviously not be replaced. Maybe one or two of those traits, but not the whole package.
But in a very literal sense, I was wondering if the NHL's Long-Term Injury Exception could be used by the Habs to bring in another body, a veteran defenceman to stem the tide until Markov returns, probably sometime in early February based on the worst-case figure of four months that was bandied about all day.
Even though I read that chapter of the Collective Bargaining Agreement about 1,000 times when Robert Lang had almost the very same thing happen to him last season, I decided to give it another look this evening, just to see if I had missed something.
It very clearly states that if a player is declared to have a long-term injury and the team uses the exception provided to exceed the cap and acquire a replacement player, the team must get back under the cap once the injured player returns. Markov's $5.75 million salary would allow Bob Gainey to acquire just about anyone under the sun, except for a select few bad contracts, but the problem is what happens when Markov comes back four months from now.
Yes, there are teams looking to move defencemen. Chiacgo would probably jump at the chance to get rid of Cam Barker's $3.5 million salary this year and next. He only played a shade over 13 minutes in the Hawks shootout loss to the Panthers today, less than half the 28 minutes logged by both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, so it would be fair to say he doesn't really have the confidence of the coaching staff there.
But let's say Gainey goes out and trades for him, uses the LTIR for Markov and he plays great in Montreal. What happens when Markov returns? Does Barker collect his salary in the minors? Does someone else?
Adrian Dater of the Denver Post speculated on the possibility of the Avs and Habs hooking up for a trade today, dangling the names of Ruslan Salei and Brett Clark as possible candidates to be brought in as a Markov replacement. The same argument applies here, except it's even more vigorous because neither Salei nor Clark are in the same league as Barker.
It just doesn't seem to be worth the headache to me, but I have to admit I don't really understand the full cap implications of an LTIR claim. But this could be a blessing in disguise for the Canadiens, as other defencemen will be able to assert themselves in what should become an open battle for ice time.
Jacques Martin was talking today as if this will be absorbed with the personnel in place, pumping up the play of Josh Gorges and Ryan O'Byrne while making comparisons to last year's Penguins and Devils missing Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney and Martin Brodeur for most of the first half of the season.
Bob McKenzie at TSN says this will increase the pressure on Carey Price to perform, but I don't see it that way at all, simply because there couldn't possibly be more pressure on Price than there already is.
While Roman Hamrlik will slide into Markov's spot alongside countryman Jaroslav Spacek on Montreal's first pair, the real beneficiary of this is O'Byrne, who now becomes an official member of the Habs top-6. It provides him another opportunity to forget last year's step back and become a much needed physical presence for the team. That's a good thing, because if O'Byrne was bouncing in and out of the lineup all season, the one thing that needs the biggest rehab - his confidence - would be in a constant state of flux because of the day-to-day pressures of not knowing whether or not you'll play on a given night. Now he knows, let's see what he can do.
I'm pretty surprised not to have received an e-mail from the Habs yet as to the recall of Yannick Weber from Hamilton. I figured that would be a no-brainer, but there still hasn't been any announcement made.
I wrote earlier that the Markov injury basically ended the Habs season, and I still believe that a playoff spot is now more of a longshot. But maybe, just maybe, losing the team's best player will have a beneficial effect, and the team will still be in the hunt when Markov gets back, which would allow the team to peak at the perfect time.
You want optimism? Well there you go. But in reality, this news on Markov is literally the very worst thing that could have ever happened to the Habs.