James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Markov on the mark

Monday, March 12, 2012

With the playoffs either about to begin or just a week or so away, it’s incredibly rare to have a No. 2 or maybe even No. 1 defenseman available for the picking. The cruelty of injuries can make such players flat-out free agents some seasons, which is why you should take the time out to open a new tab/window and check for one player if you’re reading this at the right time today:


Andrei Markov.


The Montreal Canadiens appeared downright gullible when they gave the sore-kneed blueliner a contract extension considering his seemingly uninterrupted injury issues. Any non-playoff team has its fair share of mostly-delusional “What if?” scenarios, but considering the Habs’ backend issues, they might just have a point when they wonder what could have been with a healthy Markov quarterbacking their power play and generally allowing players like P.K. Subban to settle into a more “natural” spot in the lineup.



Those power play QB skills are the primary reason that Markov was once an outstanding asset in fantasy hockey, making more than his fair share of unofficial “most underrated defenseman” lists. In a way, the Russian blueliner was a less-publicized Sergei Gonchar in the fabled rouge blanc et bleu.


Since his 2010-11 and 11-12 statistics are sparse to the point of virtual uselessness, let’s go back to 2009-10 and beyond – the last time he played a decent amount of games.


In just 45 games that season, Markov managed 16 power-play points, second among Canadiens defensemen behind Marc-Andre Bergeron, who had six more PP points in 15 more contests but lagged behind Markov in even strength stats (Markov had 17 even strength points; Bergeron was limited to 12).


2008-09 represents his most complete recent body of work - and it is impressive. In 78 contests, Markov scored seven power-play goals and 39 PPP's. Those are pretty impressive overall numbers for a fantasy blueliner, yet he also scored 24 points at even strength, totaling a borderline-elite (and career-high) 64 points.


At 33 years old, he presumably has plenty left in the tank if his knee is fully healed, though that career-best rate might be asking too much. (My guess is most fantasy owners aren’t expecting sky-high numbers, although there are plenty of dreamers out there.)


If you ask Markov, things started off pretty well – and not just because he notched an assist in his first game back this weekend. He provided a great quote on the heels of that performance, telling a mass of reporters “I’m, like … happy, you know?” after that game in which the Habs beat the mighty Vancouver Canucks 4-1.



All that happiness aside, we must get to the negative side of the equation.


Most obviously, those knee issues make him a risky addition. By no stretch of the imagination is his knee a sure-thing, especially since the Canadiens are fighting for self respect and dignity rather than a legitimate shot at the playoffs right now. If he has a setback, he might just smile at the thought of actually playing and get back to rehabbing.


Still, even if we ignore the wonky knee and just look at his numbers, he’s not an all-purpose fantasy blueliner. He's not going to knock your socks off in the peripheral stats. His career-high is 74 PIM and he'll get a reasonable amount of those, but it's more along the lines of the kind of penalty minutes that simply come along with top defenseman minutes.


Markov isn't going to light up the shots on goal category, either. You can peg him more or less for two per game, which is certainly solid but not exactly a selling point either. Like most defensemen, his plus/minus stats tend to shift with his team's fortunes, although to his credit, he's never been a double digit minus guy and has a career +31 mark.



With respectable peripherals and great offensive numbers, Markov is a no-brainer for anyone who needs a little boost on the blueline. Just keep in mind you’re taking on significant injury risks – which shouldn’t be anywhere near as much of concern as it will be for people drafting next season.



Mike Green has one game left on a three-game suspension he received, as he already sat out two games this weekend. It was a bonehead hit and another strike against him in a disastrous fantasy season – in a contract year no less … Here are a few possible return target dates for star players; Tuesday – Jonathan Toews and Jimmy Howard; Thursday – the next game on the schedule for the Pittsburgh Penguins and therefore the next dream date for Sidney Crosby … In other Penguins injury news, it sounds like Kris Letang is making some progress … Chris Thorburn will miss three weeks for the Winnipeg Jets … Patrice Bergeron headlines the banged up Bruins to watch list from a bruising Sunday matchup against the red-hot Penguins … Corey Perry’s shoulder is acting up. With the Ducks rapidly fading from the playoff race, the team might err on the side of safety – which is bad for all but (maybe) his keeper league owners … Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto remain banged-up for the Rangers … Pavel Kubina is the latest in a long line of injury-ravaged Philadelphia Flyers defensemen … Brenden Morrow returned for the Dallas Stars and helped them win by a scoring a goal in the process. (Click here for the full injury list.)



While his starts streak was interrupted at 11 straight games, Ilya Bryzgalov still seems obviously back on track with three shutouts in his last four contests and the kind of numbers that are starting to justify his high selection … Andrei Kostitsyn appears to be finding a solid niche with his brother in Nashville. One thing that can either benefit or hurt his value is the potential return of Alex Radulov, who some believe might just make his NHL comeback this week … Ben Bishop could be a serious find considering his strong start in Ottawa … Kari Lehtonen continues to impress while Michael Ryder’s red-hot run has him at 30 goals and 53 points already for the Stars this season … If he’s available in your league, take a flyer on Ryan Malone. He has a six-game points streak and has solid potential in other categories.

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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