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Andrei Markov not returning to Canadiens next season, joining KHL

Montreal Canadiens' Andrei Markov skates while playing against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday March 10, 2012.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Veteran defenceman Andrei Markov's 16-season tenure with the Montreal Canadiens is over.

The team announced Thursday that Markov, an unrestricted free agent, will not return next season to his only NHL team. Markov later told reporters he is will play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, opening the door for him to represent his country at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

The Canadiens thanked him and wished him good luck on Twitter. Team owner Geoff Molson also tweeted his regards to the 38-year-old.

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"Arguably one of the best defencemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey," said Molson. "A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice.

"Andrei's commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family."

Markov played 990 regular season games, sixth most among Canadiens defencemen.

His 199 goals are third-most by a Montreal rearguard and his 572 points tie him with Guy Lapointe for second in team history.

He added five goals and 27 assists in 89 playoff games.

Montreal drafted the Russian 162nd overall in 1998 and he made his NHL debut two years later.

The Canadiens signalled Markov's departure this week with the signing of 39-year-old free agent defenceman Mark Streit.

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Markov earned an average of US$5.75 million in each of his last 10 seasons on three separate contracts. This time, it is not known if the two sides couldn't agree on money or the length of a new deal, or both.

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