When you talk about the standing of a star player from the modern era of the Montreal Canadiens — say, anything after 1993 — there is a massive case of the “yeah, buts.”
Saku Koivu was the second-longest-tenured captain in Canadiens history. He is 10th all-time in team scoring. Over his time with the team he is 15th all-time in assists per game. This despite the fact he played in the lowest-scoring era of the game, and the best goal-scorers he played with were Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Richard Zednik, and Brian Savage.
Any time you mention this, though, you get one answer more than most: “Yeah, but he never won a Stanley Cup.” That’s the rebuttal for someone who was often the best player on his team, and its most visible, with the most media focus.
For someone like Andrei Markov, there are even more obstacles. He wasn’t a first-round pick. He wasn’t the captain. At no point during his career would he be seen as the most popular, nor the best player on the team. In many ways, people didn’t realize what he brought to the team until he was gone. In that way, he was a lot like Koivu.
When Koivu left the team after the 2008-09 season, there were no protests outside the Bell Centre like there were for Alex Kovalev. There wasn’t even the outrage or drama that ensued with Markov. However, the narrative around Koivu has changed since he left the team, and especially since his retirement.
Markov’s numbers were even more impressive than Koivu’s. His 990 career games are second all-time among Canadiens defenders. He’s second in assists, and tied for second in points among blue-liners in team history.
Those numbers would be impressive in any organization, never mind one with a history as long or as illustrious as the Canadiens’. When you mention whether Markov deserves his number celebrated among the greats in team history, you get another case of the “yeah, buts.” That Stanley Cup.
Markov’s lore has grown in the two years since he left the organization. Some of that is due to the Canadiens missing exactly what he brought, and there’s also the avoidable way he left. Part of it was just the context in which we look at the recent history of the team.
A lot of it was simply that he was always there. His career spanned 16 seasons and 10 head coaches (including Michel Therrien and Claude Julien twice). It spanned Patrice Brisebois, Sheldon Souray, Mike Komisarek, P.K. Subban, and Shea Weber. It spanned Jose Theodore, Cristobal Huet, Jaroslav Halak, and Carey Price. But Markov was always there.
Regardless of whether the night to honour Markov is to raise his number to the ceiling of the Bell Centre, or simply to thank him for his time with the team — like it was for Koivu — the night will be well deserved. While Koivu, Subban, and even Max Pacioretty had their return games at the Bell Centre, Markov’s next time at the arena will be his first since he left.
He’ll get a standing ovation. And the man who made a career from the shadow will finally be in the spotlight.