MONTREAL - When the Canadiens open their training camp Saturday morning, star defenceman Andrei Markov won’t join his teammates on the ice in Brossard.
“I wish I could skate with the team tomorrow or today, but I want to be 100-per-cent sure I’m healthy,” Markov said Friday as he discussed his rehabilitation from major knee surgery. “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.”
The Canadiens adopted the same long-term philosophy when they signed Markov to a three-year, $17.5-million contract despite the fact the 31-year-old has undergone two operations to repair the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.
Markov displayed his sense of humour when asked to comment on a report he had suffered a setback when he had fluid drained from his knee during a checkup by Florida-based surgeon Dr. James Andrews last month.
When asked if he had water on his knee, Markov smiled and said: “I have water in my basement.”
He confirmed he experienced swelling in the knee, but described it as a normal part of his rehabilitation.
“He said the healing is good,” Markov said of his meeting with Andrews. “Everything in the knee, like the bones and muscles, is good. I had a little swelling at that time, but he said it’s normal for a second surgery.”
Markov’s reluctance to rush back from the surgery is the result of past experiences. He first injured his knee in the second round of the playoffs in April 2010. He returned to the lineup on Oct. 30, but played only seven games before reinjuring the knee in a collision with Eric Staal on Nov. 13.
This time around, Markov has taken 10 months to rehab the knee and, while he won’t offer a date for his return, he said he hoped to be ready for the Canadiens’ season opener on Oct. 6 in Toronto.
Markov noted he spent most of the summer at the Canadiens’ training facility. He said he has had good days and bad days, but he was trying to remain optimistic.
“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.”
Over the past two seasons, the Canadiens have proved they can survive without Markov in the lineup. He has played only 55 regular-season games over the past two seasons, but he is the team’s best defenceman when he’s healthy.
“Whether he’s there or not, we have to play hockey,” defenceman Hal Gill said. “Hopefully he’s there and he can help us.”
Gill said staying healthy would be one of the keys for success for this year’s team.
“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,” Gill said. “The league’s tough. You need all hands on deck. It would be nice to have everyone healthy.”
General manager Pierre Gauthier had to scramble last season to fill the vacancies created when Markov and Josh Gorges went out with knee injuries. He plugged the holes by adding James Wisniewski, Brent Sopel and Paul Mara, but they’re all gone – and so is Roman Hamrlik, who ate up a lot of minutes in Markov’s absence.
If Markov is out for any extended period, Gauthier might have to go shopping again. He has top-four talent in Gill, Gorges and P.K. Subban. Jaroslav Spacek offers at least a solution, but the other spots are open for a young Yannick Weber and European newcomers Alexei Yemelin and Raphael Diaz.
In the meantime, the Canadiens must wait for Markov to feel that he’s 100 per cent.
“I feel better today than I did yesterday,” Markov said.
The Canadiens are hoping that trend continues.
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