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Canadiens’ re-signing of Andrei Markov shows they’re going for it

Photo: Charles Laberge/SI

With his new contract, Andrei Markov will stay with the Habs for another three years.

I suppose it’s not too difficult to justify today’s decision by Montreal GM Marc Bergevin to re-sign Andrei Markov to a three-year, $17.25 million extension. The veteran defender enjoyed a solid season during which he scored 36 assists and 43 points — both top-20 numbers among blueliners — while leading the Habs in ice time (25:14).

With Montreal coming off a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final, a decision to cut the 35-year-old from the equation in the name of fiscal sanity would suggest they weren’t focused entirely on improving.

But would that really be a bad thing?

In a lot of ways, the Canadiens’ spring fling felt like a bit of a mirage. They caught a couple of breaks, like Tampa playing without its Vezina-finalist goalie, and a second-round set against Boston, a team they owned during the regular season. Then, they were rolled by a very mediocre Rangers squad.

To his credit, Bergevin recognized it for what it was, a great experience for a team he said “isn’t quite mature yet.” But it’s also a squad in the midst of an important change. “The way our young players performed in the playoffs tells me that leadership is slowly shifting in that room,” he said.

That’s probably a better indication of their chances for future success than a couple of playoff rounds this spring. Players with their best years ahead of them, guys like P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller, are establishing themselves as the focus over Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec. And the group is trending younger, with prospects like Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi ready (or nearly ready) for prime time.

That’s where this deal begins to make sense. Even at that term and those dollars.

There’s always room for an established veteran presence when you’re bringing up the kids, and Markov can provide that. Yes, he faded down the stretch and was downright miserable at times during the playoffs, but he can still handle enough minutes at both ends of the ice to ease the transition of these youngsters into larger roles as his new deal winds down.

There’s a very good chance he’ll provide minimal on-ice value by the time the third year rolls around — if age doesn’t get to him, his history suggests injuries probably will – -but this contract isn’t about year three. It’s about now. About seizing a wide-open opportunity in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal’s real window may open three or four years down the road, but there’s still a chance to make some noise now. Head coach Michel Therrien will have to monitor his usage to ensure he has some gas left in the tank for the postseason, but Markov can still be a difference maker for a team on the verge of better days. And better he makes that difference for the Habs than someone else.

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