When he left the Montreal Canadiens two seasons ago and inked a two-year deal with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan, it appeared that veteran defenseman Andrei Markov had played his final big-league games. But after spending the past two campaigns across the pond, the 40-year-old blueliner is eyeing an NHL return.
Reports of Markov’s desire to make a comeback to the NHL aren’t altogether new, however. Since the culmination of his pact with Kazan, with whom Markov played 104 games, scored seven goals and 47 points and won a Gagarin Cup, it has been reported that he’s been testing the waters. Speaking with the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan earlier this month, Markov made clear that he’s ready and willing to finish out his career in the NHL.
But Wednesday, Markov seemingly took another step towards his return by hiring agent Allan Walsh, who represents high-profile clients such as Marc-Andre Fleury, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Huberdeau and Jonathan Drouin. In a Tweet announcing the partnership, Walsh said Markov, who is 10 games shy of reaching the 1,000-game plateau in the NHL, has been “intensively training in Florida this summer and is determined to play in the NHL this season.”
What would Markov bring to the table? Well, while he’s almost certainly not as fleet of foot as he was during his prime, the veteran undoubtedly still has the smarts and know-how to run a power play unit, and while his offensive output dipped from five goals and 33 points during the 2017-18 campaign in the KHL to two goals and 14 points last season, Markov still patrolled the blueline for upwards of 21 minutes per game. He wouldn’t log the same minutes in the NHL – chances are far greater he’d be a special-teams specialist – but he could fit the bill as veteran depth defender.
If Markov is to make his return, though, where does he fit? Here are five clubs who could, or should, consider bringing him aboard:
All right. Let’s get this one out of the way. Markov hasn’t shied away from saying he’d welcome a return to the Canadiens, and if there was anywhere for him to hit the 1,000-game milestone and skate the final season of his career, it’s in Montreal. He’s as beloved a figure from the modern era Canadiens as any. He ranks sixth on the storied franchise's all-time games played list, sixth all-time in assists and 17th all-time in points. Every single game of his NHL career has been played in Montreal, and when he left for the KHL, he did so in part because he couldn’t envision pulling on another NHL jersey.
Putting sentiment aside, however, there are challenges. While he would most likely fit under the cap, particularly if he was willing to take a modest salary on a one-year pact, the left side of the Canadiens’ blueline features Victor Mete, Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly. There’s a bit of a logjam there. When the dust settles, there simply might not be a spot for Markov in Montreal.
New Jersey Devils
…if we want to stay in that sentimental-landing-spot territory, how about reuniting Markov with former partner P.K. Subban? In speaking about Markov at a recent fundraising event, Subban said that he would “take ‘Marky’ on my team any day,” according to NHL.com. Subban also praised Markov for how instrumental he was in those early years of the newest Devils rearguard's career.
Markov in New Jersey isn’t quite the square-peg-in-round-hole fit that one might think, either. Sami Vatanen is a clear-cut choice for top minutes on the left side of the blueline and Will Butcher is in line to step into a second-pairing role this season, but the third-pairing spot could come down to a battle between Andy Greene and Mirco Mueller. But what about Markov in that spot? Not only could he help the Devils play a more up-tempo game than Greene and provide more experience than Mueller, Markov’s power play prowess could vault New Jersey’s extra-man attack out of the bottom-third of the NHL.
“We're going to be in the market.” That was what Flames GM Brad Treliving said in the wake of news that Juuso Valimaki was sidelined indefinitely with a torn ACL in his right knee. Sure, he also hinted that some of the young talent that was already on the roster and in the system could step up, as well, but if Treliving wants to add some experience to the blueline and find a left-handed replacement who can contribute, Markov should be a prime candidate.
The argument against adding Markov comes down to two things: age and money. The Flames already have a veteran defenseman in captain Mark Giordano, and there might be more to be gained in letting a youngster battle for the spot vacated by Valimaki's injury. More importantly, though, Calgary has yet to sign restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk to a new deal and the Flames aren’t exactly flush with cap space. They have $7.76 million with which to work, and that might not be enough to get Tkachuk under wraps. Chances are Calgary will have to move someone along in order to get a new deal in place with the 21-year-old. If there is room after that, though, the Flames should kick the tires.
Subban’s comments are what makes this seem like a potential fit. It’s true that Markov had a hand in developing Subban during his tenure in Montreal and the two were inseparable at times on the Canadiens blueline. That gives Markov some cachet as a veteran rearguard who can help shepherd in the next generation on the blueline, so why not see if there’s a fit in Colorado? There’s no concern about Cale Makar or Sam Girard producing, but getting some veteran guidance from a defenseman who was a high-end playmaker during his heyday could be worthwhile.
It’s not as though the Avalanche have a glut of depth defenders, either. Kevin Connauton has only played more than 70 games once, Mark Barberio’s career high is 60 games and Ryan Graves averaged less than a dozen minutes per game in the 26 contests he saw last season, though he is still developing. Markov could slide into the lineup as a third-pairing defenseman, push one of the lefties to the right side and take the younger Avalanche rearguards under his wing.
During his time with the Detroit Red Wings, new Oilers GM Ken Holland hardly shied away from inking veteran talent. In the post-lockout era, he inked the following UFAs to 35-plus contracts: Mike Modano, Ruslan Salei, Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Alfredsson, Dan Cleary, Brad Richards and Mike Smith. So, taking a shot on a 40-year-old who still has some gas left in the tank wouldn’t exactly be out of character for Holland.
But there’s more to the suggestion that Edmonton is a fit than that. The top-four of the Oilers’ blueline is likely to feature some combination of Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Kris Russel, and Evan Bouchard is projected to make the cut and slide into the lineup this season. If Bouchard, a righty, is to play his natural side, though, that leaves Matt Benning, Joel Persson and Caleb Jones to battle for the final spot on the blueline. So, while Markov may be up there in age, it seems fair to suggest he’d be an upgrade, and much like he could help Makar and Girard in Colorado, he could do the same with Bouchard in Edmonton.
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