Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tempests and Teapots

It's a good thing Andrei Kostitsyn can't speak English very well. It appears that, when given time, a willing reporter's ear and the chance to vent in his own language, he took the opportunity to tell said reporter all about how Jacques Martin doesn't like him, doesn't listen to him and didn't explain why Kostitsyn bounced around the lineup all last season.

Now, while it's fairly certain Kostitsyn isn't the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, he might have a point with his complaints. Surely Martin had bigger issues with which to deal last season than Kostitsyn's concerns. He had, for example, a D-corps decimated by season-ending injury and a top-six centreman who was missing in action for the majority of the year. So, perhaps, the Belarussian whose most erudite English phrase is "shoot puck, score goals" was at a disadvantage when trying to understand what his coach wanted of him. Maybe he felt a little left out, let down and just plain baffled. That he chose to express those sentiments publicly wasn't the wisest course of action, considering the Canadiens brass's antipathy to even the slightest whiff of trouble in the dressing room.

The problem facing Canadiens management now is whether Kostitsyn is worth soothing. That Pierre Gauthier was content to sign him for one year, ending in unrestricted free agency, is an indication of the organazation's uncertainty about Kostitsyn's long-term value. Signing Erik Cole for four years also underlines AK's precarious position as a top-six winger in Montreal.

The thing is, Kostitsyn is a good player. Perhaps he's not a consistent top-six guy all the time, but he's got definite skills. He's a tank on skates, and one of the few Canadiens forwards who hits with authority. He's also got a wicked wrister and he's good for twenty goals even in an off year. And, while he might have voiced his displeasure with the coach, his teammates seem to like him. Post-game kudos for and teasing of "Kush" were common last year.

The former tenth-overall draft pick is probably never going to be the 35-40 goal scorer the team was hoping for eight years ago. That doesn't mean 20-plus goals are worthless. Natural goal scorers aren't a dime a dozen out there, and Kostitsyn started last season very well on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. It appeared he might finally be having the breakout season about which fans had dreamed. That all screeched to a halt when, in an attempt to jump-start Scott Gomez, Martin yanked Kostitsyn off the Plekanec line. Gomez and Kostitsyn had as much chemistry as a beagle and a duck-billed platypus and Kostitsyn's numbers went south.

Looking at last year objectively, an argument can be made that Kostitsyn's inconsistency, this time around, wasn't all his fault. And maybe the year before, the aftereffects of the concussion he sustained at the hands of Kurt Sauer might have played a role. If management is willing to take those mitigating factors into consideration and overlook complaints probably made out of frustration, Martin will have to really try with Kostitsyn. He has an asset that can help the team if he can find the key to working with the player. That is, after all, the heart of his role as coach.

Maybe nothing will make a difference and Kostitsyn will have another inconsistent year with long cold stretches during which he looks like he was introduced to hockey last week. Maybe he'll go quietly to another team at some point during the season, after Gauthier has time to let the whiff of potential discontent die away and he can get a decent return for him.

Then again, if Martin really tries to connect with a young player who's got obvious communication problems to go along with his hockey skill, there's a chance the two can clear the air and the Canadiens can get the best out of a player for whom they had great hopes. And it's not just about Kostitsyn in the big picture. With young Russians like Alexei Emelin, Alexander Avtsin and, someday, Maxim Trunev, in the pipeline, the Canadiens need a coach who can get through to them.

The worst possible thing that could happen is for Gauthier to get frustrated with the situation and dump Kostitsyn right away. Memories of the Ribeiro-for-Niinimaa trade should make that choice an obvious no-go.

Andrei Kostitsyn offers the Canadiens the kind of depth they haven't had in years. He can play on the third line with Lars Eller or David Desharnais, and he can play on the first with Tomas Plekanec. Either way, he gives them a legimate top-nine scoring forwards, which is a hallmark of any contender. Considering how unlikely it would be to replace his sure-thing 20 goals via trade early in the year, it's worth it to the team to try to work it out with Kostitsyn, at least for now.

Thanks to a Russian journalist and Twitter, we know what Andrei Kostitsyn was really thinking when he muttered, "work hard, shoot puck, score goals." Now it's up to Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin to work with him and draw out his ability to help the team. After all, not every player is a Brian Gionta or Tomas Plekanec. Sometimes, a little one language or another...can go a long way.


Ralph said...

Too often, when a player says something publicly, there's more attention paid to 'airing the dirty laundry' than there is to the content of his comments. I think we can all agree that it was a silly thing to say to a 'journalist', but lets go to the root of his comments, namely that Martin isn't much of a communicator and may not use his personnel to best advantage. Duh, what a surprise! Without knowing the ins and outs of the locker room, one thing that stood out big time last year was the immense amount of patience Martin exhibited with Scott Gomez, who didn't reward that patience in the least...along with the non existent amount of patience Martin typically exhibits with younger players. PK sits, Eller sits, Pacioretty gets banished to the AHL and only when the coach is forced to use these guys in important situations do we see that they can indeed handle the responsibility. Gauthier needs to have a little chat with Kostitsyn and another one with Martin. Can we trade Martin for Guy Boucher? Please.

JF said...

Jacques Martin came to Montreal with a reputation for being good with young players. With some of our young players, his relationship has apparently been satisfactory, but with others there seems to have been problems right from the start. Most of these - Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan O'Byrne, Guillaume Latendresse, BenoƮt Pouliot - have now left the team and are doing well with their new teams (we'll see in the case of Pouliot). I hope Andrei Kostitsyn will not turn out to be another. He may be inconsistent and he may never be the player the Canadiens hoped they were drafting, but he has definite skills, some of which are in short supply on the team, and he can be counted on for 20 goals a season, quite a few of them game-winners. It also seemed to me last year that he was fitting in and enjoying being on the team more than had previously been the case.

Jacques Martin and his assistants need to find a way to communicate effectively with Kostitsyn. Some of his frustration is justified, but he's a valuable member of the team who maybe needs some reassurance on that point.

bonzohabs said...

Agreed J.T.! This season is a clean slate. I think Kush was frustrated and I believe that the translation made things a little worse then what they really are. Also, the lack of Habs news amplified it. This issue also arose in mid-season when Kush talked to Martin and he was rewarded with ice time. I also read "Lions in the winter" article and they hit the nail on head as well. They also gave statistical evidence. Kush isn't lying, or over exaggerating, but he was wrong to do it publicly. Now that the season is fresh and Martin has less on his plate, Kush PG and Martin should have a meeting to gel back up and iron things out before the real season starts. It's the mature thing to do. Go Habs Go!

Anonymous said...

I like your viewpoint JT. Probably because it agrees with mine. That makes you wise in my eyes:-)

Seriously though professional hockey is Kostitsyn's livelyhood. He lives in a foreign land 3/4 of the year, works hard, and is a very good hockey player. He has been rewarded with a one year contract for his efforts is trying to do what he is told to do.

So what is he to think? That he is on the bubble? The Canadiens hockey management is astute. They are impressive. Kostitsyn is taking the route his brother took. Never really sidelined he is just coming along later.

I can see Andrei in Philly or Florida where he could be the next Leclair. I can't see the Canadiens having a hole on the wing to do that favor for Philly or Florida. By the same token a couple more press releases and I can see him traded to a team with great depth at his position.

To me Kostitsyn's future with this team rests not in his hands but in MaxPac's and the progress of a couple guys from the Bulldogs. In other words: I like the guy but he has the potential to be disposable and has shown indications of achieving that potential.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. JM had too much on his plate last year? It's his job to get the best out of every player on the team. Too much on his plate? What a joke.

I'm expected to run multiple building projects, and 10 staff. Yes there's a lot on my plate, but I attend to all of it. So do all competent managers, and they keep their staff happy doing it.

It is my impression that Martin is a shit player manager and a shit motivator. There is NO excuse for not talking with Kosty last year.

I'm entirely on Kosty's side. He's the one who laces his skates on and plays. Martin's job is 1000 times easier.

Managers and coaches who continue to lose young and talented staff get noticed for it, and they get fired for it. End of.

Yet one more incident that shows Martin has one year left.

Raj said...

I know it's fashionable to dump on JM, and given his taste in ties, and his dour manner most nights behind the bench, he's an easy target.

He said something last year that gives an insight into his philosophy: "It's a privilege to play in the NHL." Ergo, one shouldn't have to work overly hard to soothe bruised egos or have to pander too much to a multimillionaire athlete's sensitivities. I find myself largely agreeing with him. When I read that Alex Kovalev wanted Cory Clouston to be "kinder" I nearly laughed. Yes, a coach should treat his players with respect and perhaps coddle the rare one who is sensitive AND a generational talent. Andre is indeed a talented player, but he is no Sidney Crosby, and shouldn't have to be coddled. At some point he has got to be responsible for his own play.

Despite JM allegedly screwing him over last year by making him play with Gomez, let's not forget that Andre scored slightly more points per game last year than he did the 2 previous years and his TOI was decent. JM and Andre DID talk during the season last year and I was left with the impression AK realized he was partly being protected when he played on the 3rd line.

I think the whole incident has ben way overblown. He said something off the cuff in a foreign language to a reporter thousands of miles away. For all we know, his remarks might have been distorted or misrepresented or suffered in the translation from Russian to English. Yet all the sensational stories about his remarks in the North American press are remarkable for having no clarification from the source (i.e., AK) about what he actually did say.

The entire incident is less about AK and JM than about a lot of mileage being made about allegedly "juicy" remarks that haven't been corroborated. In the meantime, the newshounds (JT -- I'm not referring to you, you're not a sports reporter and your blog is not a commercial venture) and the commentariat will have gotten their pound of flesh and lots of site hits.

MC said...

Excellent commentary JT. I always felt AK46 has been a bit unlucky in his development. You mentioned the concussion; there was also the low check from Keith Ballard two seasons ago that injured his knee after he scored 10 goals in a month and seemed to be having his breakout season. I really feel a player like AK46 could blossom with a true number one centre. He certainly did better with Pleks and Eller than with Gomer. He would do even better with Eller if they game them 2nd line minutes and PP time. Imagine what he would do with a centre like Getzlaf or Thorton?

IMO, AK46 is another casualty of the Habs' commitment to the Gomez deal. It is a classic case of bad decision making by Habs management caused by escalation of commitment. They keep giving Gomez 1st line minutes despite all evidence to the contrary that he deserves it to avoid admitting that it was a bad deal. The Habs have a team that can really contend next season, but I think their success rides on how management handles Gomez. If he continues to decline (which seems most likely), and the Habs continue to stick with him on the top two lines, they have NO chance of a cup. Zero. But if they demote Gomez to the third line or to Hamilton, they have a serious shot this year and maybe a player like AK46 can blossom.

Jim Edson said...

JM is a dinosaur who cannot and will not change despite the fact that the game and the players have changed around him.

JM has (at least from the outside perspective) issues with young players and with any players veterans or rookies who have any individualistic flair. A devotee of the Anatoli Tarasov rigid "my way or the highway" style of coaching.

This is by far not the ultimate kiss of death as the one thing that united the great teams of the late 70's was the players' dislike of Scotty Bowman.

Difference is that Bowman could and did adjust his game-plan on the fly, JM it appears generates his game plans during the off season and adheres religiously to those plans. His greatest and only strategic adjustments are breaking up existing forward lines and benching non-veterans.

The Canadiens fans better hope that Randy Cunneyworth can replace Muller as the communication link between JM and his players or this might be a season of discontent within the team.

It never ceases to amaze that the Canadiens have surrendered the running of their team to the detritus and discards of the Ottawa Senators. Who collectively have no history of winning anything of significance.

Anonymous said...

Just like how the Habs made Ryders game go south in a hurry....

Don said...

Let's not forget that AK46 led the team in hits. Let's not forget as well that he did his time in the minors and, when he came up, he sat way, way more often than LaSlowesse who never had to play a game in the minors and has about one-tenth of AK's skills and upside. Gainey just couldn't admit he was wrong in bailing out Sather's ridiculous signing - and he never seemed to want Kostitsyn who was drafted by a far more talented GM, Andre Savard.

dusty said...

AK46's comments seem tame and acurate. I'm sure JM and PG aren't alarmed as some seem to be.

Pat Hickey seems to have gone psycho considering his "Kostitsyn has to go" column. He seems to want the Habs to dump him for nothing to a team under the cap floor. Great idea, first write an off-the-wall column to slash his value and trade him in a panic in August.

I think AK46 will have a fine season barring injury. He is a good player and if he finds a home with Eller they could do some damage. He deserves one more season to make good and I think he will.

Now if PG signs Hunter as you suggest, the Habs will be a contender. Never would have said that last year but if Boston can win the Cup, the Habs can too.

Anonymous said...

How many players do we have to lose because JM doesn't like them.PG is keeping gomez and JM out of respect for BG.I hope Mr Molson cleans house and gets rid of PG,BG,JM,and TTand hires the best people for the job and not just because they can speak french.Some of the french media might hate it if wew won a cup with an anglo front office tho.

V said...

Your title 'tempest in a teapot' captures my sentiments exactly. At least that is what this whole AK episode should be. Hickey should be ashamed - what an over-reactionary article.

Too bad people are using this to smear Martin again. I don't see a lot of evidence (to the extent I can see much from a fan's limited perspective) that says Martin did anything wrong.

He appears to do what he thinks he needs to do to win games - can't fault him for that - and I think he has gotten the most that can be expected from the team in the last two years. And that includes a decent contribution from AK who looks like he is on an upward curve as a complete hockey player.