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Is Gauthier's latest signing a hint on Markov's future?

This should get the rumour mill going.

After signing Swiss free agent defenceman Rafael Diaz last week, Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier added Russian blueliner Alexei Emelin on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old is a stoutly-built rearguard with a considerable mean streak, and after three years in the KHL he will now have his chance to play for the team that drafted him in 2004.

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But that's not the most interesting part.

Emelin is represented by super-agent Don Meehan, who was to meet with Gauthier on Tuesday about Emelin and two other clients, Andrei Kostitsyn and Andrei Markov.

Tea-leaf readers may see the Emelin signing as a hint on Gauthier's intentions regarding Markov - who is an impending free agent and acts as a mentor to many young Russian NHL players.

And given that Diaz's North American representative is Meehan, it is another move forward for this agent-GM pairing.

The Habs have already suggested they want to keep Markov, who is recovering from a second reconstruction of his right knee.

Though Emelin has agreed to a two-way pact, his signing could signal the Habs have ended their interest in re-signing UFA-to-be James Wisniewski (who will command a Markov-like salary and was always going to be a long shot to re-sign).

The cascading effect of the most recent signings also carries ominous tidings for veterans Roman Hamrlik and Brent Sopel, whose contracts expire next month.

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Gauthier had a chance to watch Emelin first-hand at the most recent World Championships, where the latter played for Russia.

"We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with Alexei Emelin. Alexei is a steady, physical defenceman with strong skating ability. The experience he has acquired in the KHL over the past few years will make for a smooth transition to the NHL," Gauthier said in a press release issued by the team.

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