MONTREAL -- Larry Robinson sits atop the Montreal Canadiens' all-time defenseman leaders list in a fistful of categories. It could be years or decades, if ever, until he's passed on many of them by anyone wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge.
Robinson leads Montreal defensemen in games played (1,202), goals scored (197), assists (686), points (883), power-play goals (65), game-winning goals (28) and plus/minus (plus-700; his career total of plus-730 is by far the best in NHL history). The only category in which he's down on the list is penalty minutes; his 706 are 11th, far behind Lyle Odelein's team-leading 1,367.
On Thursday, navigating his boat slowly east on the U.S. side of the St. Lawrence River between Brockville and Prescott, Ontario, Robinson considered the huge news coming downstream out of Montreal: Defenseman Andrei Markov, an unrestricted free agent, was leaving the Canadiens and the NHL to play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
Markov, 38, has pulled off his Canadiens jersey after 16 seasons with the only NHL team for which he's played, ranking second behind Robinson among defensemen in games played (990), assists (453) and power-play goals (60). He's tied with Guy Lapointe for second place in points by a Canadiens defenseman (572), with 213 more games played.
Robinson, 66, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenseman, has observed Markov for all of the Russian's career, from the moment the Canadiens selected him in the sixth round (No. 162) of the 1998 NHL Draft. On Thursday, Robinson had high praise for the man who has been the cornerstone of the Canadiens defense for at least the past decade.
Video: OTT@MTL: Markov rockets home PPG for second of game
"Markov has probably been their best and most consistent defenseman for all these years," said Robinson, a 1995 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who in 1978 won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "He was the point man on their power play, he did a great job there, he made it go."
One of Markov's strengths has long been his vision on the ice, his ability to find a seam to get the puck to a forward down low, or one racing through the neutral zone on a rush.
"That's probably one of the reasons why Markov has been so consistent for all these years and put up the points he has, because he does see the ice well," Robinson said. "You don't have a guy who captains your power play on the back who can't make a pass. [Shea] Weber's not a bad passer, either, but he's got a cannon back there. Markov has that uncanny ability to find open people and get the puck through, and that's certainly a great attribute."
This week marked 28 years since Robinson left the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent, signing in July 1989 to play his final three NHL seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. In 20 NHL seasons, he never missed the playoffs. Robinson knows well the idea of playing an entire career with one team but then taking off the jersey you thought would be the only one you'd ever wear.
Markov had begun by asking the Canadiens for two more years, saying Thursday that he'd have taken one year had he been able to reach such an agreement with general manager Marc Bergevin.
Robinson figured that Markov, representing himself without an agent, was initially asking for serious money "because if he asked for that, he knew he'd probably get that to play in the KHL."
Bergevin, Robinson said, did well by bolstering his defense with a July 1 signing of free agent Karl Alzner, bringing the veteran in from the Washington Capitals on a five-year contract, and this week's one-year signing of free agent Mark Streit, most recently with the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins, who will return to Montreal after having played the first three years of his career (2005-06 through 2007-08) with the Canadiens.
"In retrospect, [Bergevin] had to cover his butt," Robinson said. "He can't all of a sudden come September say, 'Here we are, we weren't able to sign Markov, so who are we going to get to take his place?' They've got a very good, steady, physical defensive defenseman in Alzner.
"I also think they've got a pretty good quarterback in Streit, who wherever he's been has been one of the go-to guys on defense on the power play. [Bergevin] has done a good job in finding people to fill the gap in the event they weren't able to sign Markov."
And then, with a laugh, Robinson said, "For what it's worth, if I'm Markov, I've got to feel good that they had to get two people to replace me."