Andrei Markov retired today. At 41 and coming off a shortened season in the KHL, it’s not exactly surprising. But it’s sad for someone who considered Markov to be one of his favorite players, and one who deserved more attention for his career than he received.
For 16 years, Markov established himself as a leader on one of the NHL’s most storied franchises – a Montreal Canadiens team that hadn’t tasted glory in a very long time. He instantly made a threat, playing key minutes as a rookie before truly emerging as a top-pairing defenseman at 24, his third year in the league. For an undersized, low-risk, high-reward sixth-round pick from 1998 to leave Russia to play such an important part of the team’s attempts at returning to glory, that’s huge.
I don’t think I played any NHL video game more than NHL 2004, considered by many to be one of the best games in the series (and with the best soundtrack, no question). I had a dynasty team mode with the Canadiens, and at the time, it was the game that really sparked my interest not only in the depth of the league, but the league itself. I could always rely on Markov to put up significant points each season, and with a bit of luck along the way, Markov helped lead the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup in 2005-06 – taking the Conn Smythe home in the process. I quickly became a fan of him for his on-ice performance after, and the rest is history.
Of that 2003-04 Habs team, only Ron Hainsey, who skated in just 11 games that year, remains. And he’s on his last legs as an NHLer as it is, so that could quickly change. That season doesn’t feel that long ago, so it’s sad.
There were rumors last summer that Andrei Markov was looking to return to the NHL, specifically Montreal. But if you had seen him in the KHL, you’d know there was no realistic chance of it. Some fans were calling for the reunion to happen, but he wasn’t at his full game when the Habs let him go originally – let alone at 40 years old with a couple of so-so KHL campaigns and a history of knee issues under his belt. The Canadiens must have thought the same, electing to pass on one of the best defensemen the franchise has had in the past 20 years.
But let’s look back on the happy days. The days when he would help set upt Sheldon Souray on the power play back when the Canadiens were unstoppable with the man advantage. Or how, when healthy, he had no issue hitting 50 points a season. Or how he was a mentor for a young P.K. Subban, helping his talented two-way partner win the Norris Trophy in 2012-13. Or how he played nearly 1,000 games with a single franchise, something few players can say these days.
Markov didn’t get the respect he often deserved in Montreal, whether it be due to his injury history or the fact the Canadiens didn’t achieve much success in the playoff department. But for a former sixth-round pick to play top-four minutes for nearly his entire career in one of the biggest hockey markets in the world… that’s special.
It’s been a few years since North Americans got to see his career in action, and what a career it was. Markov won three top-tier Russian league titles, including a KHL championship with Kazan in 2017-18, World Championship gold in 2007-08 and had consecutive NHL all-star game appearances in the late 2000s. It’s easy to forget about just how good he was during his heyday: With 572 points in 990 games, only Hockey Hall of Fame member Larry Robinson (883) had more as a defenseman in the 110-year history of the franchise. only Francis Bouillon (507) played over 500 games for the Canadiens during Markov’s 16-year run in Montreal and P.K. Subban had 294 fewer points as the second highest scoring defender. Among all positions, only center Tomas Plekanec (581) had more points overall than Markov. Only four defensemen (Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Gonchar, Dan Boyle and Zdeno Chara) had more points on the blueline from 2000-2017, so that’s incredible company to be apart of.
We’re not talking about a Hall of Fame career here, but we’re talking about a very strong one that may have not received as much attention as it deserved. Markov was never one of the best defensemen in the league, but he held the fort in a way very few consistently could during his career. Markov is hanging up the skates without a Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal, but he’s doing so with an incredible resume to his credit.
Thanks for everything, Andrei Markov.
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