Andrei Markov leaves Montreal for reported two-year KHL deal

Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro try to figure out why the Montreal Canadiens and Andrei Markov couldn’t work out a contract.

Not only will Andrei Markov not be re-signing with the Montreal Canadiens, the defenceman will not be sticking around North America this upcoming season.

The unrestricted free agent announced on a conference call Thursday that he will be heading home to Russia and joining the Kontinental Hockey League for 2017-18.

“I’ve made my decision to move back to Russia and play in the KHL,” Markov said.

Markov declined to specify which KHL club he plans on joining because the contract has not been signed yet.

It was reported by R-Sport Friday that he had inked a two-year pact with Eastern Conference contender Ak Bars Kazan.

Markov, 38, said he would have played for the Canadiens on a one-year contract but that Montreal declined.

By leaving the NHL and joining the KHL, Markov will become eligible to suit up for Team Russia at the 2018 Winter Games.

Countryman Ilya Kovalchuk, another UFA this summer, also opted for the KHL largely because of the Olympic opportunity. Russian players under NHL contracts, such as Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, have also expressed a desire to compete for a gold medal in February.

Markov said he is not closing the door on a return to the Canadiens or the NHL. It’s unclear if he can opt out of the second year of his Ak Bars deal. If Markov plays out two KHL seasons, he would be 40 years old upon a potential NHL return.

“Those 16 years were a big part of my life. I will never forget my time here,” Markov said. “I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team. I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

Markov has spent his entire NHL career with the Canadiens since the team drafted him in the sixth round in 1998. In 2016-17, he registered 36 points in 62 games and moved into a tie for second place on the Canadiens’ all-time list for most points by a defenceman. Through 990 career regular-season games, the Russian posted 119 goals and 453 assists for 572 points.

The top-four defenceman had originally requested a two-year, $12-million contract to remain in Montreal, and the Canadiens opted to sign UFA Mark Streit on a one-year, $750,000 pact instead.

Despite his advanced age, Markov was easily the best free agent defenceman on the market and should have no issue making his national Olympic squad.