-- It's been nearly 16 months since Montreal Canadiens
defenseman Andrei Markov
first tore the ACL in his right knee in the first game of the second round of the 2010 playoffs, and after all this time, he still doesn't know when the knee will be fully healthy.
Markov, 32, played just seven games last season before tearing the ligament once more in November, and while he expressed hope Friday he will be recovered in time for the Canadiens season opener Oct. 6 in Toronto he said that's not necessarily priority No. 1.
"I wish I could skate with the team tomorrow or today, but I want to be 100-percent sure I'm healthy. I don't want to come back for a few games. I'd like to stay here for the long term, and that's what we're looking for." -- Andrei Markov
"I wish I could skate with the team tomorrow or today, but I want to be 100 percent sure I'm healthy," Markov said. "I don't want to come back for a few games. I'd like to stay here for the long term, and that's what we're looking for."
Markov confirmed media reports that he recently experienced swelling in the knee but said it was perfectly normal. He said he met with his surgeon, renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, just less than a month ago.
"He said the healing is good," Markov said. "Everything in the knee, like the bones and muscles is good. But I had a little swelling at that time, but he said it's normal for a second surgery."
Markov admitted frustration set in at times during the summer as he trained at the Canadiens suburban practice facility, but he's doing his best to maintain a good attitude.
"I'm trying to stay positive," he said. "I wish I could play tomorrow. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but it's going to happen one day. I'm excited about the new season and I want to enjoy our team and practice with them as soon as possible."
The great majority of Markov's teammates have barely spent any time playing with him. Only four other members of the Canadiens have been with the team longer than two years, and in those two years Markov has played just 60 of a possible 190 regular season and playoff games.
So, in a sense, should Markov miss the start of the regular season it won't serve as a huge shock to the team, but that doesn't mean his teammates wouldn't miss him.
"Whether he's there or not, we have to play hockey," fellow defenseman Hal Gill
said. "Hopefully he's there and he can help us. I know he will."
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 20 | +/-: 2
Any prolonged absence for Markov would mean the burden of producing offense from the back end would fall to young defenseman P.K. Subban
, who is preparing to start his second NHL season. Last season when both Markov and Josh Gorges
were lost to knee injuries, Subban played on Montreal's top shutdown pairing with Gill while also quarterbacking the power play alongside the now-departed James Wisniewski
When asked what potential differences he sees between this Canadiens defense and last season's version, Gill's answer reflected just how difficult it was to cope with those injuries.
"Hopefully health," he said. "We've got guys coming off some knee surgeries that hopefully we have in the lineup going into the playoffs and battling to get into the playoffs. The League's tough. You need all hands on deck. It would be nice to have everyone healthy."
For now, only Gorges is fully healthy after his ACL replacement surgery, while Markov remains a question mark.
Markov avoided hitting the unrestricted free agent market when he was signed to a three-year, $17.25 million contract by general manager Pierre Gauthier in June.
Though Markov wouldn't speculate on how much longer he will be out, Gauthier did say Wednesday at the team's annual fundraising golf tournament that no one on the team was "in danger of missing a lot of time."
For his part, Markov said he taking it one day at a time, even though he's essentially been re-living the same day over and over again for the past nine months.
Markov did his best not to get too specific about his condition, often reiterating that he has some good days and others that are not as good.
"All I can say," he said, "is I feel better than yesterday."