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Andrei Markov wants to 'live for today'

Defenseman upbeat entering 16th season with Canadiens, looks forward to playing with Shea Weber

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL - Of the many impressive statistics attached to his name, here is the one that first came to the mind of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov early Saturday morning:

"It took me 45 minutes to drive half a mile downtown yesterday," he said with a sigh, sitting over 7 a.m. coffee before boarding a Montreal flight to his summer home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I love Montreal, but the roads up here are getting worse and worse. I drove into the city once this visit, and that was enough. It's ridiculous. Someone has to fix these problems."

And then, with a laugh, echoing the refrain of every frustrated Montreal driver: "If you're going to start talking about the roads, it's going to be a long conversation. As soon as I feel the bumps in the road, I tell myself, 'Welcome back to Montreal!' "

Markov is many miles beyond the potholes and detours of his knee; his right ACL was shredded twice and rebuilt twice over a seven-month period in 2010. Today, the longest-tenured member of the Canadiens is deep into preparation for his 16th NHL season, having skated all 928 of his regular-season and 83 Stanley Cup Playoff games for Montreal.

Markov grins again when another set of numbers is run by him: Since he debuted with Montreal two months before his 22nd birthday, he has had 189 teammates (by the Canadiens' count), three captains and played for three owners, four general managers and seven coaches -- nine, if you count Bob Gainey and incumbent Michel Therrien twice each.

"Do those numbers surprise me? Yes and no," Markov said. "I never look at the stats. I only know that since I've been here all my career, I've seen lots of changes in the team, management and coaching staff.

"Every coach has a different style of game and different reasons for doing things. As a player, I'm a soldier who has to adjust to the system. You just have to be yourself and do your best for your teammates."

Two freak knee injuries sustained in 2010 resulted in the native of Voskresensk, Russia, being labeled as fragile. Today, five months before he turns 38, Markov is viewed as an iron man; during the past four seasons, he has missed two games, both for rest before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Touch wood," Markov said, considering his durability. "I just try to follow my routine every day. To be honest with you, it's not easy. But you realize you have no choice - you have to take care of yourself, be well rested and well prepared. That's what I try to do, and I enjoy every day."

This is a long summer, he suggested, speaking of the Canadiens' failure to make the 2016 playoffs. That said, he's working to be in top shape to represent Russia in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September.

"I try to add something new to my training every summer to improve myself," Markov said. "It doesn't matter how old I am, it's always fun to challenge myself to improve. With the World Cup, I already feel like the season is not far away. …

"Sometimes it's tougher to handle the mental side of hockey than if you feel your body is tired. You get used to being physically tired, you know how to handle it.

"Mentally, it's not always easy. But that's our job and I never look for any excuses. I'm looking forward to next season. It will lots of fun, and it will be different."

Video: MTL@COL: Markov rockets it home to provide the lead

Indeed, the face of the Canadiens has changed the past month, the most dramatic move being the June 29 trade of P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for fellow defenseman Shea Weber that is still rattling Montreal, the tremors felt by Markov in Florida.

He is flattered by the praise that Subban has showered on him in recent interviews, the latter calling Markov the most respected player in the Canadiens dressing room while praising the influence the Russian veteran has had on him both on and off the ice.

"I wish P.K. only the best and good luck with his new team," said Markov, who won't hear talk of the often larger-than-life Subban having been a distraction on the Canadiens. "P.K. is a great person, a great guy, a great hockey player. He's just enjoying his life, having fun. You have to know the kind of person and player he is. 

"It's not always easy playing with him, but I had lots of fun doing so. And I probably learned some new things from him."

Of the incoming Weber and the other changes made to the roster by Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, most notably the acquisition by trade of Andrew Shaw, the free agent signing of Alexander Radulov and the departure by trade of Lars Eller:

"I don't know [Weber] personally but his numbers and the way he plays prove he's one of the top defensemen in the league, and everybody knows that," Markov said. "He's been a captain in the NHL for many years and he's going to bring a different style of game and leadership to our team. I'm looking forward to that.

"The changes? Who cares about my opinion? I'm going to keep it [to myself]," he said with a smile. "Management knows what they're doing. I'm 100 percent sure that they're not making any moves to hurt our team. They only want to make us better."

If Markov won't shed much light on his views of the dressing room, he's happy to share the happiness of his personal life. Long viewed by most as a guarded, private man, on his Instagram account - - he celebrates his life with his girlfriend, Sonya Sonechka, and their 3-month-old daughter, Vasilisa.

Being the father of an infant, Markov said, beaming, "means something new every day. You can see the happy face of the baby. I enjoy every moment of every day."

Video: MTL@PHI: Markov slams home rebound to cut the lead

He's on Twitter, he said, but jokes that his first tweet will come "only when I know how to use it, which is the next step.

"I'm not a closed guy at all, like some say. I'm very open. I enjoy life. I like having fun and social media lets me show that. It's about two things: I have nothing to hide, and I'm very happy. I have a woman beside me who makes me happy. It's important to have the person next to you make you happy, make you laugh and take care of you."

Back in Florida, Markov will bear down on his training before taking a short family vacation in New York. He'll fly to Russia for a World Cup minicamp in early September and a few exhibition games before returning to Canada for the tournament, moving straight from that into the Canadiens camp and an 82-game, or longer, NHL season.

Should Markov not miss a game in this season, he will play his 1,000th regular-season NHL game at home against the Ottawa Senators on March 19, when he will be nearing the end of the three-year contract he signed in 2014.

"That's in the back of my head," he said of both the milestone and another signature to play on. "I know 1,000 games is close, but it's not healthy for me to think about that. And I don't want to think about my contract, either. That will take care of itself.

"I still have lots of energy and I still love hockey. What I want to do now is take this one day at a time, enjoy the game and my family, and live for today, not tomorrow."

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