The Canadiens will enter training camp with the knowledge that their best defenceman, and arguably their best player, will miss the first quarter of the season.
Andrei Markov underwent knee surgery on May 19th with a full recovery prognosis of six months. If the healing process takes the full six months, he won’t be available until the Habs 20th game of the season, November 20th at the Bell Centre against Toronto.
Knowing the Canadiens record last year when Markov was not in the lineup, and the fact that the Habs had to go to the last game of the season in order to make the playoffs, the loss of points in the first quarter of the season could be an eventual difference maker.
Jacques Martin will be faced some interesting tactical decisions in Markov’s absence from the left point. While the pairing of Josh Gorges and Hal Gill iporbably remain, the other two pairings may undergo a major reshuffle.
Jaroslav Spacek played out of position on right defence alongside Roman Hamrlik last season after years on the left side. Spacek could be moved back to the left point where he is admitedly more comfortable, paired perhaps with Ryan O’Byrne. O’Byrne, like P.K. Subban, is a righthanded shot. That would leave Hamrlik with Subban on what would probably become the go-to pairing when the season begins, at least from an offensive standpoint.
The Canadiens have liked to carry a seventh defenceman and that means going to Hamilton. The Bulldogs are not loaded in that department. The most heralded among their defencemen is Yannick Weber. Last year his season was completely overshadowed by Subban. He’s smallish at 5’10 “ but his is good with the puck and has good on-ice vision.
Also in the mix is the unsung Mathieu Carle. Carle’s progresse has been hindered by injury after injury, but the consensus is he’ll be an NHLer eventually. The third choice is Greenfield Park native Frederic St. Denis who made great strides with the Bulldogs as last season progressed. The rest of the Canadiens minor league defencemen is a mixed bag; that include Kyle Klubertanz and Brandon Nash. Veterans Alex Henry and Andre Benoit were allowed to escape the organization through unrestricted free agency along with Paul Mara and Marc-Andre Bergeron from the Canadiens main roster.
Last season Markov was hurt in the opening game and, in short order, O’Byrne was injured as well. The Canadiens tried Weber and then Mathieu Carle and then were forced to sign free agent Marc-Andre Bergeron. If neither Carle nor Weber is NHL-ready, Pierre Gauthier may be forced into the market place, something I’m sure, for a variety of reasons, he’s not eager to do.