An argument for number 79's return

Andrei Markov will become an unrestricted free-agent if left unsigned on July 1st, 2014. At 35 years-old, the Habs longest-serving defenseman still remains among the Montreal Canadiens most-important players. His numbers at even-strength place him behind only Josh Gorges, and PK Subban among the current group of defensemen, while his powerplay performance is simply second-to-none.

Combining both playoff and regular season numbers, Markov was directly involved in the production of more even-strength scoring-chances for per-60 than any Habs defenseman not named PK Subban. Markov was also directly-responsible for the third-fewest even-strength scoring-chances against per-60.

In terms of points, number 79 contributed the third-most even-strength points per-60 among Habs defensemen; behind only PK Subban, and Mike Weaver (smaller sample size). No other Habs defenseman produced more scoring-chances per-possession play than Markov, while his even-strength possession rating trailed only Subban.

Markov produced the second-most even-strength scoring-plays per-60 among Habs defensemen. He also contributed the second-highest percentage of overall events with possession of the puck in the offensive-zone. Expressed simply, this shows that among Habs d-men, Markov spent the second-most "time" with possession of the puck in the offensive-zone. Similarly, Markov spent the third-lowest percentage of his overall events defending in the defensive-zone. Once again, expressed more simply, this tells us that Markov spent the third lowest amount of his overall events stuck without possession in the defensive-zone.

Markov produced the third best even-strength ratio (number of successful plays for every 1 failed play) among Canadiens defensmen; behind only Josh Gorges, and PK Subban. He also had the second best rating (how many more successful plays than failed plays produced per-minute of ice-time); behind only PK Subban. When ratings were adjusted for quality of competition, Markov's qualcom-adjusted rating of 2.26 still placed him second among Habs d-men.

Even at his age, Markov's performance still remained among the team's best. At even-strength, Markov was successful with 66% of his attempts to remove puck-possession from the opposition, and 69% of his attempted plays with possession. His defensive success-rate was good enough for second among Habs d-men, while his possession success-rate was good enough for third.

In the offensive-zone, Markov had a team-leading offensive-zone ratio of 2.03, while his offensive-zone rating of 0.31 was tops among Montreal defensemen; even better than Subban. He was also the team leader in offensive-zone puck-possession success-rate, as Markov was successful with 60% of his attempted offensive-zone puck-possession plays. His passing success-rate in the offensive-zone was a defensemen-best 68.1%, as was his success-rate when attempting to get shots through to the net.

Markov's play in the defensive-zone didn't match his o-zone performance, but still remained above-average among Montreal's defensive-core. He produced a defensive-zone ratio of 3.01, to go along with a d-zone rating of 1.46. His ratio was fourth-best among Habs d-men, while his rating was third-best. Markov produced a defensive-zone puck-possession success-rate of 71% this season, while his defensive success-rate was 67%. His possession number placed him fourth among Habs d-men, while his defensive number placed him second.

Only Gorges and Subban had better stretch and outlet pass success-rates than number 79, while only Mike Weaver had a lower dump-out success-rate. Markov still has the best stick among Habs defensemen; producing the most successful stick-checks and blocked passes per-60.

Markov's neutral-zone numbers are interesting. He produced the third best neutral-zone ratio among Habs d-men at 3.69, and the second-best rating (0.41). That said, his neutral-zone puck-possession success-rate of 71% was only fifth-best, while his neutral-zone defensive success-rate of 70% was sixth-best. A large portion of scoring-chances given up while Markov was on the ice came from high-risk plays in the neutral-zone. Markov produced the third-best overall neutral-zone passing success-rate among Habs d-men, and the second-best success-rate when attempting east/west passes in the neutral-zone.

Surprisingly, Markov had the second-lowest stick-check success-rate in the neutral-zone. That said, he blocked over twice as many opposition neutral-zone passes per-60 than any other Montreal defenseman.

Markov's powerplay performance cannot be ignored. He produced the team's top offensive-zone ratio, rating, and puck-possession success-rate on the powerplay. This tells us that while on the powerplay, Markov contributed more successful plays in the offensive-zone per failed play, than any other Montreal player. It also tells us that Markov contributed more successful plays than failed plays per-minute played, while turning the puck over (giveaway) at a lower-rate than any other Habs player; let alone defenseman.

After all the emotion is pulled out of the argument for or against
Markov's return, the final decision should come down not only to dollars
and cents, but also to the fact that the Canadiens simply do not
currently have another defensemen with the ability to take number 79's
spot. The loss of Markov will leave a huge hole in the top-4. With no
defenseman on the UFA market younger, better, or with a skillset to
match Markov, the decision becomes even easier.

In
fact, an argument can not only be made for the return of Markov, one can
also be made for the addition of another top-4 d-man; preferably
right-handed. This would allow Alexei Emelin to play on the left-side in
the number-5 spot, possibly along-side a returning Mike Weaver. Jarred
Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu need to force their way into the Habs top-6
with NHL-ready performances next season. Relying on that to occur, without an
insurance plan could put a successful 2014-15 season in jeopardy.

Would the numbers support the signing of right handed D Matt Niskanen? It is free agency, so it would be necessary to overpay, but do the numbers warrant it?

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