MONTREAL - He may be far from the most talkative player in the Canadiens' dressing room, but Andrei Markov is nonetheless a man of his word. Open all season long about his desire to stay in Montreal, Markov will now get to do just that until 2011.
"Bonjour, comment ça va?" chirped Markov much to the surprise of a jam-packed press room at the Bell Centre. "I just love Montreal. I've said all along how much I wanted to be here and now with this new contract that's going to happen."
Gainey was just as eager to sign the anchor of his defensive corps.
"We made it clear at the end of the season that signing Andrei was our top priority," reaffirmed Gainey. "We couldn't be happier to announce to our fans that we have secured this important part of our team to move us forward as an organization."
No stranger to hardball negotiations, super-agent Don Meehan had a pair of willing dance partners in Gainey and Markov.
"To be honest, it was refreshing to see how determined Andrei was to forego free agency and remain a Montreal Canadien," said Meehan. "From the get-go Montreal was exactly where Andrei wanted to be. He made it clear that this was his team, and there was nowhere else he wanted to play."
Markov's affinity for Montreal aside, it's the 28-year-old's talent that will have Gainey sleeping better at night with his top defenseman now under contract long-term.
"Andrei is among the NHL elite," added Gainey. "His play and his numbers clearly show that. Seeing him as such an important part of his Russian national team at the World Championships and the Olympics is only further proof of Andrei's vast talent."
Markov came up huge as always for the Russians at the 2007 World Hockey Championship before suffering a knee injury. The sprained left knee, which did not need surgery, is expected to heal with a little rest.
"The injury did slow down negotiations a few weeks ago," admitted Gainey. "But with it only being a sprain, he should he back to 100 percent in about eight weeks, giving Andrei ample time to prepare for training camp."
Despite being drafted 162nd overall by the Canadiens at the 1998 NHL Draft, Markov has worked his way through the ranks, culminating in his career-best 49 points and 43 assists this season. Not since Chris Chelios set a franchise record with 58 assists in 1988-89 had a Habs defenseman helped set up so many goals.
|Andrei Markov set new career highs in assists and points in 2006-07. |
"Andrei is the general of our blue line," said Guy Carbonneau. "He was a key player for us not only for our defense but for the team as a whole. It was important to me as a coach to be able to count on Andrei being with us for the next four years."
Carbo would also like nothing more than to count on the power-play quarterback that fueled his top-ranked unit this past season. And he isn't the only one.
"Our next priority will be Sheldon Souray," vowed Gainey. "I expect to have talks with Sheldon's agent in the coming days."
With the ink still damp on his new four-year contract, Markov would love to see Souray follow in his footsteps and remain in Montreal.
"Shelly is an important part of this team and a great player," said Markov. "He's also a leader in the dressing room. I hope he'll be back."
The big question is whether newly-inked Markov be giving Souray a call to twist the All-Star defenseman's arm.
"No, I don't think I'll do that," laughed Markov. "This is a big decision that's up to Sheldon and he'll do what best for him."
Judging from the smile Markov wore on the podium alongside his GM and head coach, he did exactly that by signing on the dotted line with the Habs.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com