The player that coach Guy Carbonneau called the “general” of the Montreal defence signed a four-year, US$23-million contract on Monday that will pay $5.75 million each year. Markov earned $2 million this season.
“We consider Andrei an elite player in the NHL,” said general manager Bob Gainey. “His experience, his statistics. . . he’s an important part of our team and he’s an important part of the Russian national team, which is always an indication of an elite player.”
With Markov signed, Gainey will now turn his attention to defenceman Sheldon Souray, the power-play point man with the rocket shot who can become a free agent on July 1.
He hopes to begin talks with Souray and his agent Paul Theofanous in a few days, although the 30-year-old blue-liner may be tempted to test the open market after posting a career high 26 goals and 64 points this season. Souray, who earned $2.4 million this season, is in rehab from recent shoulder surgery.
Markov barely considered free agency, saying he was happy to stay put.
“I love Montreal,” he said. “I want to stay here and I’m happy to stay the next four years.
“I thought first about Montreal. It’s tough to explain because I have never been in a situation like this, but I’m happy it’s done before July 1.”
Agent Don Meehan said he explained free agency to Markov and that he would likely attract a lot of interest from other clubs because there are few top defencemen available, but the Russian blue-liner made it clear his preference was to stay.
“When someone tells you they’re happy and they like a place, I learned a long time ago not to try to tell them differently,” said Meehan.
Other potential free agent defencemen this summer include Kimmo Timonen of the Nashville Predators and Brian Rafalski of the New Jersey Devils.
Markov was fourth in team scoring this season, second among the club’s defencemen with six goals and 43 assists in 77 games. In 411 career games with the Canadiens, he has 46 goals and 161 assists.
The 28-year-old was drafted by Montreal 162nd overall in 2000. He also represented Russia at four IIHF World Hockey championships, two world junior championships and the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Markov suffered a sprained MCL ligament in his left knee at the worlds in Moscow last month and the Canadiens brought him to Montreal for a barrage of tests before making their contract offer.
“All the information points toward a complete recovery, no surgery,” said Gainey. “And in eight weeks, he should be back to 100 per cent, so he should be completely healthy for the start of training camp.”
While Souray is the trigger man on the power play, Markov is a clever puck handler and passer who is strong at both ends of the ice.
“Andrei is our general on defence,” said Carbonneau. “He stabilizes everything.
“He’s a very important player on the team, not just on the defence, and it was important to have him back.”
Gainey said he would not make offers to potential free agents Radek Bonk, Mike Johnson, David Aebischer and Aaron Downey before July 1, but that “we may be interested after.”