Montreal·Analysis

With the Markov era over, what's next for the Montreal Canadiens?

There was no farewell tour, no build up to his final game and no ceremony at the Bell Centre. The Andrei Markov era in Montreal is over.

Andrei Markov's abrupt departure leaves fans wondering what's next for the team

Andrei Markov was nicknamed 'the General' by Montreal media for his skills quarter-backing the power play. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
   

There was no farewell tour, no build up to his final game and no ceremony at the Bell Centre.

The Andrei Markov era in Montreal is over. 

It abruptly ended on general manager Marc Bergevin's bargaining table after 17 years, leaving the Habs faithful shuffling through the emotional aftermath — a cocktail mixed of shock, sadness, anger and confusion.

The shock

Raise your hand if you predicted Markov would be playing in the KHL next season.

Few saw negotiations disintegrating to a point where he wouldn't be coming back to Montreal, let alone leaving the league altogether.   

Markov admitted that when he entered into talks for a new contract, his ask was for a two-year deal. Reportedly, he wanted $6 million US per season, which would have been a slight raise from the $5.75 million he earned per season with his last contract.

It was a large ask. Markov is 38-years-old and isn't getting any younger. 

As great as Markov had been over his career, it was clear from the start that Bergevin didn't want to hitch his wagon to Markov for two more seasons.

But what about one more? 

According to CapFriendly, an online source of NHL player contracts and salary caps, the Habs are $8.4 million under the salary cap for next season, so surely there was a number below that amount that could have made both sides happy.

Eventually Markov — who went through this entire process without an agent — blinked, lowering his demand down to one year. 

We don't know when Markov moved off his two-year contract demand or how much he was asking for to play one year, but we do know it was too late. 

Bergevin let him take his talents to back to Russia, shocking fans that they couldn't find common ground.

The sadness 

The Habs have shown over the years that they're not afraid to make moves that aren't exactly fan-friendly (see: P.K. Subban).

But for Markov to say his goodbyes over a crackly phone line is not how most envisioned the farewell for a generational player of his calibre.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban (76) gets a kiss from teammate Andrei Markov during a playoff game in 2015. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

For many years, Markov was the cornerstone of one of the greatest franchises in all of sports.

He endured multiple seasons of disappointment as the management failed to build a Stanley Cup contender around him. 

He is beloved by the fans base, respected by all his teammates, is widely regarded as one of the hardest working men in the NHL and his career numbers have sparked the debate over if he deserves to have his #79 retired along side the Habs greats who hang in the rafters of the Bell Centre. 

He was 10 games shy of 1,000 NHL games in his career.

But none of that trumped the reality of professional sports as a tough, cutthroat business.

As Markov said Thursday, "it is what it is," and what it is is sad. 

The anger

Outside of the intangibles off the ice, on the ice Markov isn't a guy who can simply be replaced.

Even at his advanced age for a professional athlete, he still found ways to chip in offensively and is still one of the better puck movers in the game. 

Since he was free agent, he leaves the Canadiens without compensation, so it's not like management can claim the team is any better with this move.

It's also the latest in a string of big name departures which include Alexander Radulov, Mikhail Sergachev, Alexei Emelin and Nathan Beaulieu.

Alexander Radulov and Nathan Beaulieu are two other players who won't be returning to the team. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

As one Habs fan told CBC after the news broke, losing Markov "is like the cherry on the sundae that nobody wanted to eat." 

The confusion

Ultimately, both Markov and the Habs management share the blame for this situation.

Markov might be signed and preparing for training camp right now, had he hired a third party to negotiate a deal instead of trying to save on commission by representing himself.

And Bergevin might still have Markov in the fold had he been able to convince him to come down to one year sooner than he did. 

But it's hard to say because Bergevin might have other plans for that $8.4 million in cap space that have yet to be revealed.

Bergevin made a statement that Carey Price is the backbone for the future by signing him to an eight-year $84 million deal, but other than that the Habs moves this off-season appear to be akin to treading water, if not moving backward.

Markov by no means represented the future of the franchise, but without his steady hand to usher in the next generation of players, fans are left to wonder where the team goes from here.

To that, Markov's stock response to a question he didn't want to speculate on is appropriate. 

"You tell me. You're the expert," Markov would often snipe at reporters followed by a long stare down.

Fair enough. After all, it's not his problem any more. So long, General Markov. 

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