Markov prefers Canadiens return; agent says multiple teams calling

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Andrei Markov during his time with the Montreal Canadiens. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Earlier this summer, Andrei Markov made it clear he’s preparing to make an NHL comeback for the 2019-20 season.

Earlier this week, former Montreal Canadiens star defenceman took a step towards increasing his odds at landing another NHL contract by hiring prominent hockey agent Allan Walsh to be his representation.

“Things were busy [Wednesday]. Numerous teams called,” Walsh told reporters, including Sportsnet’s Eric Engels, Thursday at a charity golf tournament in Laval, Que. “They’re asking questions. They’re asking questions about his conditioning. I forwarded teams a bunch of videos of him training. There’s people who have actually been out there to see him skate in Florida, to see him train.

“For the first day — officially starting [Wednesday] was Andrei Markov’s July 1 — it was a pretty busy day.”

Markov was selected by the Canadiens in the sixth round (162nd overall) of the 1998 NHL Draft and debuted during 2000-01. Over the next 16 seasons the Russian developed into a top-end offensive blueliner and accumulated 572 points in 990 games played.

During his time in the NHL, the only defencemen to register more points than Markov were Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Gonchar, Dan Boyle and Zdeno Chara.

However, Markov signed a two-year deal with KHL team Ak Bars Kazan as a free agent following the 2016-17 season once it became clear he and the Canadiens wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement on a new contract. Markov reportedly sought a multi-year offer, which was something the Canadiens weren’t willing to make.

The Russian didn’t want to explore other NHL options at the time, but left the door open for an eventual return.

Markov registered 33 points in 55 games during his first year with Ak Bars Kazan and followed it up with a 14-point, 49-game showing in 2018-19.

“When you step on the ice [at the Bell Centre] you feel the fans, they’re so passionate and they support each game and you feel like the crowd’s got your back behind you,” Markvov told Stu Cowen of the Montreal Gazette when reminiscing of his time with the Canadiens earlier this month. “That feeling is kind of like something special, you know.”

Walsh, who also represents Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin, wouldn’t confirm nor deny that they’ve already spoken with Habs management and he echoed what Markov said earlier this summer — that Montreal is where the defenceman’s heart is and where he’d ultimately like to finish his career.

“More than that, he’s 100 per cent committed to playing in the NHL this year,” said Walsh, who added that Markov only wants a one-year deal. “I think it’s realistic at 40 years old to go year by year.

“Is he open to staying and playing more than another year? He loves the game and he loves to play and as long as he feels that he can contribute and make a difference, mentoring younger guys, helping out five-on-five, contributing to a power play. We believe he has a lot still in the tank and a lot to offer and time will tell how this works out.”

Walsh mentioned more than once that hitting the 1,000-game milestone is something that remains important to Markov.

Markov will be the eighth Russian in NHL history to earn a silver stick if he plays 10 more NHL regular-season games. If he plays those 10 games with the Canadiens, he’d become just the 36th player in NHL history to play 1,000 games with one franchise.

If it’s not Montreal, Walsh said Markov is opening to playing anywhere — Eastern Conference, Western Conference, doesn’t matter.

“He made it very clear to me that he is open to playing in the NHL, period,” Walsh said. “Obviously, it has to be a good fit. It has to be something that makes sense to him and makes sense to the team. … There’s 31 teams in the NHL and he’s open to talking to every single one of them.”

And what about the option of signing a professional tryout contract to play his way onto a roster?

“We haven’t come to that discussion yet,” Walsh added. “In my opinion, there are going to be numerous offers and opportunities for him without having to even consider that.”

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