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Alexei Emelin isn’t a free agent this upcoming summer, but he’s an unrestricted free agent next summer, so he’s a bit of a scientific experiment to me.

I’m looking at his defensive partner Andrei Markov, who has never gotten his due thanks to an abundance of injuries throughout his career. He’s played a single 82-game season, back in 2008, which happened to be the year the Montreal Canadiens came out of nowhere to win the Eastern Conference in the regular season.

Of course, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but one major difference about the Habs this year as opposed to the Habs last year is a healthy Andrei Markov. The 34-year-old has played just 65 games over the last three seasons and 20 games in the last two and a lot of folk writing off the Habs were probably writing off Markov’s health. There he is, leading Habs’ blue liners in minutes, alongside Emelin.

But Markov isn’t who I’m worried about. I’m worried about his defensive partner Emelin. He’s under contract for next year, but the year after the Habs are slated to have the following defence expire: Markov, Pernell Karl Subban, Francis Bouillon, Raphael Diaz. I’m doubting all those players will be kept by the team, and one or two may be able to test free agent waters, particularly with Subban due for a huge raise:

capgeek habs

-capgeek

So why does Emelin matter? Because Mike Komisarek this week was sent to the minors by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he will presumably be bought out this summer if he is able to stay healthy. He makes $4.5-million after being awarded a $22.5-million five-year deal by the Leafs in the summer of 2009.

What’s the connection to Emelin? Remember Sheldon Souray, who in 2007 signed a five-year, $27-million deal with the Edmonton Oilers? He lasted three seasons and after not playing to expectations and running afoul of management, was sent to the minors and bought out by the Oilers. Between 2005 and 2007 the two combined on 19 scoring plays, mostly on the powerplay. That did make Souray look awful good. He had three straight 30-point, 20-minute-per-game seasons starting in 2003-2004.

Souray has since resurfaced in Dallas and Anaheim, and he’s really good. I have doubts that if Komisarek were playing for a more modest deal he would be in an NHL lineup, but that’s not particularly the point. The point is that playing alongside Andrei Markov for a long stretch of time seems to absolutely inflate the value of his contract. Markov had tremendous success with Souray on the powerplay until he left to Edmonton. Komisarek, meanwhile, was Markov’s regular partner before he moved off to Toronto.

After Komisarek went to Toronto, Markov played 45 games primarily with Ryan O’Byrne, but that was it. O’Bryne was a 46.5% Corsi player alongside Markov that season and a 42.1% Corsi player without Markov. He was eventually traded, and never got to cash in as a UFA, unfortunately for him, in the summer directly after a couple of years with Markov.

Poor guy. Probably cost him a bunch of money, because O’Byrne got traded to Colorado, and now people have realized that he’s probably not particularly good at keeping the puck at the right end of the ice. But back in the day, Souray and Komisarek looked elite. Souray played in two all-star games (he actually played in a third while he was with the Oilers), while Komisarek was an all-star in 2009, and played in the 2010 Olympics a couple of seasons before becoming a regular healthy scratch. Healthy again after three seasons, Markov has come off the shelf to be partnered alongside Alexei Emelin primarily at even strength. The two are playing heavy minutes against the best competition the opponent has to offer, as calculated by Corsi QoC.

So for Emelin, it will be a while before he’s a UFA, and the key to him getting rich is Markov staying healthy, evidently. Souray and Komisarek both cashed in big paydays, getting over $20-million each by playing relatively competent hockey alongside one of the best defencemen in the world. As for the experiment, if Markov can finish off this season and play another, will the same thing happen to the 26-year-old Emelin?