In the 101 seasons of the National Hockey League, over 7,000 players have reached their childhood dreams to lace up their skates with the league’s best. Yet, only 337 have played 1,000 games, that is less than 5%. Within those 337 players, 56 of them have donned the Montreal Canadiens logo at least once in their career.
In an even more distinguished statistic, only five have played 1,000 games with the Canadiens alone: Henri Richard, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Jean Béliveau and Claude Provost. There is one former Canadien who wants to join that elite group but does not have an NHL contract. That man is Andrei Markov.
Oh So Close
One of the biggest reasons Markov wants to make a return to the NHL is because he is only 10 games away from reaching the 1,000-game milestone. In a recent interview with Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan, Markov stated that it his goal to earn the accomplishment, while being able to show he can still be a top player.
“It’s something you want to be there. It’s important, you know, but most important probably is to try to play one more year in the NHL, to prove that I can still play in that level,”Andrei Markov
With so few Canadiens to reach 1,000 games while wearing the CH, it would mean a lot to the veteran defenceman, who was a big part of the Canadiens’ success from 2012-2017, with the exception of the dreadful 2015-16 season.
With some older players on the blue line already, Markov does not look like a sexy candidate, however in his two years away from the Canadiens, he has shown he is a solid piece on the back end.
The Fire Still Burns
When talking with Cowan, Markov, 40, noted that he still has the itch to play, and his age is far from holding him back.
“I know I’m 40, but it doesn’t feel like I’m 40…I worked hard over the summer and I’ve done some stuff I never did before. I put in lots of work this summer and I’m looking forward … we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Without an NHL contract in 2017, Markov went back to his native Russia and joined Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League. He put up solid numbers with Kazan, scoring 45 points in the past two seasons, with a combined plus-20. He was also an important piece during the 2017-18 season, which saw Kazan win their 3rd Gagarian Cup over CSKA Moscow.
With the shape he is in, and his desire to return the show, there is no question he could be an everyday player in the NHL this coming season.
How He Would Help the Habs
He is in great shape, and in much better shape than other players his age. It would be unwise to place him onto the top pair, or press him for 20 minutes a night with players such as Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry. Yet, he could still be a very solid asset on the Canadiens’ blue line.
In European hockey, it’s rare to see high-scoring defencemen. Last season in the KHL, only seven defencemen scored 30 or more points, where teams play a 62-game schedule. Through Feb. 1 in the 2018-19 NHL season, where most teams had played 50 games, 18 blue-liners had reached the 30-point mark, with 57 meeting the mark by the end of the regular season.
In Markov’s first season in Kazan he scored 33 points, tied for second among defencemen. His numbers took a dip last season, only scoring 12 points, but that does not accurately show the type of player that he still is. During his tenure in Montreal, he scored less than 30 points only four times. Twice when he was splitting time between the Canadiens and their AHL affiliate in Quebec City in his first two seasons in North America, and in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons when he missed a combined 134 games due to a knee injury he suffered in Nov. 2010.
His play in his own zone has not diminished in his time in the KHL. He is still a responsible player, as he was for the majority of his time with the Canadiens. Markov’s stamina hardly dwindled, as he only missed 20 regular season games in Kazan out of a possible 124. In his two seasons with Ak Bars, Markov averaged 21:28 per game, while taking just over 27 shifts per game. Comparing him to 42-year old Boston Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara, who played an average of 21:05 a night last season, it is a positive mark for the 40-year-old.
For a rebuilding and/or re-tooling team, youth is key for long-term success. However, as the only left-handed d-man with extensive experience, Markov would be the perfect player to help the youthful Canadiens lineup. Along with Shea Weber, Markov could be a real guiding force for the young Victor Mete.
Mete, who played an average of just under 18 minutes a game last season, will learn a lot from the elder Markov. Whether it be showing him how to present himself off the ice, how to work and train during the season, or any other tricks of the trade of being an NHL defenceman, Markov could be a big help in the career of the Canadiens’ rising defenceman.
Mete will not be the only youngster who could be positively affected by Markov’s presence. Players such as Matthew Peca, Charles Hudon, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are still getting their feet wet, and Nick Suzuki is on his way. These are players who would look up to Markov and learn how to be a professional, both on and off the ice.
Markov has stated that this may be his last year playing professional hockey, whether it be in the NHL or in the KHL. He has also stated that if the Canadiens are not interested in offering him a contract, he would be open to hearing offers from other teams around the league. However, after the years of hard work and dedication he put in while playing for Les Habs, it would be a tough pill to swallow to see Markov play his 1,000th game wearing anything other than a Montreal Canadiens uniform.