Jaromir Jagr was known for lifting his hand to a salute after he sent the puck flying to the back of the net. The veteran right wing, who played in Philadelphia last season never expected to be on the receiving end of his infamous tradition.
Enter Danny Markov.
There’s a reason the nine-year NHL defenseman was known for his toughness. After the Maple Leafs eliminated Jagr’s Penguins in overtime of the 1999 Eastern Conference semifinals, Markov sent a victory salute of his own in Jagr’s direction.
He waited until Jagr noticed – Markov’s point was made.
"I always play like this, a physical, fiery game," Markov told the Windsor Star years later. "It's a big factor in the playoffs. We all try to play it."
Markov played with that intensity under any circumstance. When an injury below his eye required stitches, the Moscow native simply took the stitches out and refused to accept anesthetic in order to keep playing. A slap shot to the face against the Ottawa Senators couldn’t keep him off the ice. Toronto’s ninth-round draft pick in 1995 was anything but disappointing – or boring.
Markov began his career in 1993 as a member of HC Spartak Moscow. He left Russia partway through the 1996-97 season to play for Toronto’s farm team, the St. John’s Maple Leafs. Markov had a breakout season the following season as he made his debut for the Leafs and represented his country at the World Championships.
After four seasons in a Toronto jersey, the Leafs sent Markov to the Phoenix Coyotes as part of a trade for Travis Green, Robert Reichel and Craig Mills. Markov improved in Phoenix, setting career-highs in assists with 30 and points with 36. He also represented Russia in the Olympics for the second time in his career, helping his country win a bronze medal in Salt Lake City.
Two years later Markov joined the Carolina Hurricanes, but was traded to the Flyers partway through the 2003-04 season. He scored one of his first goals as a Flyer during the infamous line brawl game against the Senators. The two teams combined for 419 penalty minutes, the most in a single game in the history of the NHL. In addition to his 15 penalty minutes, Markov’s first period goal was the Flyers’ 10,000th in franchise history. He would net one more goal in the team’s next 34 games before the 2004 playoffs began.
After a brief stop in Nashville, Markov arrived in Hockeytown. The Red Wings signed Markov to a one-year deal as a free agent in 2006. Markov was expected to bring his intensity to the ice as the No. 4 defensemen without being relied on offensively. His presence added even more grit to a defensive line that included Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider, Niklas Kronwall, Chris Chelios, Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda.
Markov’s aggressiveness was welcomed with open arms.
"Sleeper tough," is how Kyle Calder described Markov to the Windsor Star. "He's a wiry guy, but those are always the toughest. Different body physique. Same mentality. It's not very forgiving to go to the net when he's there."
Markov’s explanation was simple.
"I just play like I play," Markov told the Windsor Star. "I like to hit people."
The defenseman’s first season with the Wings turned out to be his last, but he ended on a good note. Markov finished the season with four goals and 12 assists. He had three two-point games, including one during the last game of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was his last in the NHL, but not in his career.
Markov returned to Russia after his time in Detroit, signing a two-year contract with Dynamo Moscow. The 2008 Winter Olympics marked his fourth trip to the world games, in which he helped his country to a first-place finish and gold medal.
The hockey veteran has yet to hang up his skates and doesn’t have a good reason to. Markov scored the game-winning overtime goal in the 2012 Kontinental Hockey League Eastern Conference quarterfinals, helping Metallurg Magnitogorsk come back from a 3-1 series deficit and advance to the semifinals.
Metallurg lost in the next round of the playoffs, but Markov’s goal in his first game back from an injury proved he hasn’t lost an ounce of toughness after 19 years of professional hockey.
Some things never change.