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It’s way too late to bring Andrei Markov back to the Habs

Montreal should move on from the longtime star for the bleu-blanc-rouge.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Bergevin had a tough choice to make on Andrei Markov in the summer of 2017. It should be much easier for him this time around, even if he shouldn’t feel good about it.

In August, the Montreal Gazette published a question-and-answer session involving columnist Stu Cowan and Markov. The Russian mentioned that he wants to return to the Canadiens on a one-year contract, finish his playing career in La Belle Province, all while reaching the 1,000-games-played plateau. The defenceman is 10 games away from the mark. He’s also less than three months from turning 41.

Markov and the Habs weren’t close enough on salary and contract talks that summer of 2017, resulting in him leaving for greener pastures with Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League. Markov put up 33 points during the 2017-18 campaign, ending with a Gagarin Cup championship. His second and final season in the KHL wasn’t as good statistically as his first, but the Russian still feels he can contribute to the Canadiens.

You can’t fault Markov’s new agent, Allan Walsh, for trying to help him out. He says there is interest in Markov from around the league. Markov, for his efforts, is trying his best to stay in shape.

If you think Markov will settle for a professional tryout contract, think again. Walsh told TSN 690 Montreal that he and the Russian defenceman haven’t even thought about discussing a PTO. It remains to be seen whether or not a team, let alone the Canadiens, will give Markov the contract he desires.

The obvious and biggest positive is that Markov would give the Habs another option on the power play (their struggles have been well documented). Markov led the Canadiens in power-play assists during his final season as a Hab. He would also fill a need on the left-hand side, where the Habs are lacking.

That’s really where the positives stop.

He’s not going to add an extra step for a blue line that already has Shea Weber, Christian Folin, and Ben Chiarot. We haven’t even mentioned Karl Alzner, who will likely start the season on the outside looking in — or elsewhere if the team can somehow shed his salary. The Canadiens should prioritize acquiring a younger, capable defender who can skate, move the puck, and generate offence if they’re keen to add a blueliner ahead of the season. That could mean clearing space for a younger Jake Gardiner, or trading for another defenceman by parting with pieces in their system.

He wouldn’t be a top-four defender in the current Habs core, considering how set they are with Weber, Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, and Jeff Petry, which means the team would likely have to trot out a third pairing of Markov and Folin.

The Canadiens, obviously, could only count on him to provide points in a secondary scoring role. In the history of the league and the various superstar offensive defencemen it’s seen, only four blueliners have scored seven goals or more in a season when they were at least 40 years of age.

That’s the current state of things. The Canadiens might have been better off keeping Markov two years ago when he first became a free agent. Trusting that he can provide help now as a 40-year-old — two years out of National Hockey League play — isn’t as great an idea. Markov should have earned his 1,000th NHL game then, but the Canadiens felt they were better off without him. Even if a contract now comes at a lesser price, it would be them moving backward on a decision made two seasons ago.

It’s easy to get sentimental about Markov considering he’s so close to an epic milestone. But the Canadiens should avoid going that direction, especially if the Russian defenceman isn’t willing to at least sign on for a trial run to show what he still has to offer.