Friday, January 27, 2012

Weaponry

Let's try a little experiment. First, get comfy in your chair. Now, clear your mind of all the discontent inspired by the Canadiens wretched season to date. Okay, if you're all set, think about Andrei Kostitsyn. Then, close your eyes and see what picture comes to mind. When I tried this, the first thing I saw was a goal he scored against Atlanta about three or four years ago, in which he grabbed the puck in his own end, powered around a couple of Thrashers in the neutral zone, cracked the defence like a nut and slipped a lovely backhand past the Thrashers' goalie. It was a spectacular individual effort for an extremely memorable goal.

It was also a goal that epitomized the problem between Habs fans and Kostitsyn. When the Canadiens chose him tenth overall in 2003, they were taking a pretty big chance. In a draft that featured such strong North American players as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Zach Parise, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ryan Kesler...just to name a few of the guys chosen after Kostitsyn...the Canadiens took a Belarussian kid with health concerns and no English. His talent, though, was without dispute.

What Trevor Timmins, in his first draft as Canadiens' head scout, failed to consider was Kostitsyn's ability, or inability, to use that talent consistently. As a result, when Kostitsyn scored goals like the one against Atlanta, fans were just as frustrated by the rarity of those highlight plays as they were thrilled to see them happen.

His draft position in that 2003 Super Draft, along with the hope spent on him because of the players the Canadiens didn't take, and his own tremendous ability, combined to create a set of high expectations to which Kostitsyn has rarely lived up. Because of that, a lot of people have labelled him a disappointment and wouldn't mind seeing him traded for picks or prospects at the deadline.

If you reset your image of him, however, and look at what he really is rather than what you expected him to be, you begin to realize his value. In each of the three NHL seasons in which he's played more than 60 games, he's scored at least 20 goals. He's on pace to do the same again this season. He's also a physically big presence on the ice and can deliver the kind of hits that make opposing defencemen move quickly to avoid him. He's not the superstar fans hoped he'd be, but he's not without worth. Far from it.

For $3.25-million a year, Kostitsyn's numbers are comparable to other players with similar numbers and consistency issues. Michael Ryder just signed for $3.5-million with Dallas. Ales Hemsky makes $4.1-million in Edmonton. Drew Stafford in Buffalo gets $4-million. All things considered, Kostitsyn could even be considered a bargain for what he brings.

Another plus for Kostitsyn is that now, as he's about to turn 27, he "gets it" at last. He has finally learned to drive the net hard when he can and to use his size to make room for himself and his linemates. He's got chemistry with Lars Eller that makes things happen. He was instrumental in Eller's epic four-goal game earlier this month, and he and Eller combined on the dirty work that resulted in Alexei Emelin's first NHL goal against Detroit. Kostitsyn is doing a lot of the little things that make a player, while not necessarily a star, a valuable contributor.

Whether it's because he's following the example of players like Erik Cole or (giving credit where it's due) taking ex-coach Jacques Martin's instruction to heart, Kostitsyn has found a way to help the Canadiens a lot more than he hurts them. It wasn't always that way, but it is now. It's even hard to remember the last dumbass penalty he took. In fact, the guy who used to regularly send Guy Carbonneau's blood pressure soaring with his ill-advised infractions has taken only five minors in 39 games this year to date.

All of this is to make the case for the Canadiens re-signing Kostitsyn. He's already come out and said he wants to stay in Montreal, and he's willing to take less than he might get on the open market to do so. (Or at least that's what he told Marc Antoine Godin of La Presse, who tweeted as much.) If Pierre Gauthier or his successor is committed to making the Canadiens a bigger, more aggressive team, it would be a shame to get rid of a guy who's fairly consistent in his goal scoring, is built like a tank and has learned to use his size. That he's home-grown and one of the longest-serving Habs is a nice bonus.

In the big picture, Kostitsyn isn't a distraction off the ice. He's learned to be more responsible on it. And he's not asking outrageous amounts of money to put up 20+ goals. There's also the devil-you-know factor. Gauthier or his successor could trade Kostitsyn for a pick or prospect at the deadline, or let him walk in the summer and use his money to sign someone else, but there's no guarantee that Kostitsyn's replacement would be better than the guy they let go.

Watching Kostitsyn this year has made a convert of this fan, who used to think he was the biggest liability on the team. He's earned himself an extension in Montreal through his improved style of play. Seeing him participating in conversations on the bench, and hearing his teammates talk teasingly about him reveals a little bit of how well he's become part of the fabric of the team. He deserves another two to three years on his contract for a modest raise.

Once, when I pictured Kostitsyn, he'd be standing at the top of the circle watching helplessly as his check escaped his coverage and scored. Or he'd be sitting in the penalty box after yet another o-zone trip, staring vacantly in front of him. It's a different picture now, one that the player has worked hard to create. It should be rewarded.

23 comments:

soperman said...

Good post. I absolutely agree with you. AND - you said the four sweetest words in the English language, "Gauthier or his successor...".

Remember you can't say "successor" without "success".

JF said...

Nice piece, J.T. I bacame a Kostitsyn fan last year. For the first time, it seemed that he enjoyed playing here and was becoming more involved with his team-mates. I don't think he'll ever be consistent, but he brings a lot of elements that the Habs had in short supply until recently. He's fast, he delivers thunderous checks, he's a great passer, and he has a laser of a shot. He'd be very difficult to replace, likely impossible at a comparable price. As you point out, trading him for picks or prospects is risky; as for signing someone else, who? The free agent market will be pretty thin this summer. I hope Gauthier (or his successor) will get him locked up before July 1. I feel pretty much the same about Travis Moen, who I think is under-rated. The two of them with Lars Eller make a great line which it would be a pity to break up.

Pisano said...

I agree and opine that Kostitsyn is unfairly criticized. He is a force to be dealt with and on many nights, arguably our best forward.

Undoubtedly there are changes to be made but moving players like Kostitsyn is not the way to improve.

MC said...

When you look at how thin the free agent market will be this summer for forwards, it is even more important to sign him because replacing him via free agency will be very difficult and more expensive for an older player. PG, get this deal done NOW!!!! 4-5 years at 3.5-4.0 per year.

wb100 said...

In the salary cap era management's objective must always be value-for-money, or rather value-for-cap-hit. Teams need middle-six forwards who play for under 4 million a season. Kostitsyn seems not to be the star winger the Habs thought they were drafting in 2003, but sign him at a reasonable price and he likely remains the bargain he has evolved into over the last two seasons. Had they only been as shrewd with Markov, Cammalleri, Gomez…

Number31 said...

He has done everything this team has asked of him, from working in the AHL to becoming a responsible two-way player. Every "shooter" is inconsistent. I believe, sadly, because he's non-North American that people jump on him. The dude's a friggin' truck.

When I close my eyes to picture him, I see him forechecking hard or I see him knocking Chara on his arse. Or I see that incredible pass to PK's stick for the OT goal that sent the team into the playoffs last season. (Odd he's rarely on the powerplay this year but when he is he scores). The coast-to-coast goals were lovely but those rarely work these days for any player. And seriously, if this team loses him or trades him for who knows what...I'm sorry, but there really isn't anyone in the system ready to replace what he brings. (Avtsin is the only one I can think of with similar size and raw skill, but he's just so young you don't know what he'll become...though Avtsin-Eller-Leblanc would be a sweet line one day).

I look at what Calgary extended Tanguay for (who's not a truck like AK46) and I just don't understand why Andrei can't get the same deal. Especially since I believe he really (surprisingly, considering all the crap he gets from the media) wants to stay here. 5 years, for pretty much what he's making right now... Pretty sure if Andrei had Iginla next to him he'd have some pretty awesome points/goals.

Personally I don't need a superstar. Frankly it drives me bonkers when I hear fans whine how the Habs should trade for a big winger who can score 20 goals and throw hits. Is that not Andrei?

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I agree 100% But I don't think AK-46 comes back next year. I suspect Gauthier sees Rene Bourque as Andre Kostitsyn's true replacement. So who replaces Cammalleri? A combination of Leblanc / UFA. Maybe even Gallagher. There is so much up in the air, it's hard to say for sure, but again, my hunch is that AK-46 goes.

Anonymous said...

You just nailed it. Kots needs to stay because for the salary, you can't find better out there. 3,5 mill per year for 3-4 years...book it!

punkster said...

Yep, bang on.

Darcy said...

if only the current GM had as much common sense as you.

G said...

Twice I closed my eyes and thought Kostitsyn. Twice I fell asleep. I was trying a third time when I realized "Whoa! I'm channalling a real hockey player!"

Kostitsyn is a skilled and gifted player who consistently tries to do what coaches tell him to do. Get a rapport between guys like him (there are more of them than 3M guys - Me,Me,and Me) and you get success.

He only showboats when Trekiak is watching:-)

AndyF said...

Truth is, it's taken Kostitsyn 3 years to get over a pretty bad concussion. A lot of people said he played "distracted" the last couple of years, but I truly think it was the result of this one single hit.

That said, I think Kostitsyn should be traded because he has the highest value right now to a team that's trying to compete for the Cup.

And I'm sure Andrei will not be sad to leave this town...

Steve said...

great post, and I have always been an AK fan. He scores goals few can, in the playoffs you need two or three players like that or you lose.

Anonymous said...

Really nice post. I'm 100% behind you. He's my favorite player on the team. He has the whole package. I hate when people talk about inconstency, do you think the best players in the game scores at every game ( a 40 goal scorers still doesn't score in 42 games at least). He is not playing on the powerplay, he get 15 min per game and he's not on the ice for the empty net (but there's not a lot this year). Still, he get 40 pts + per years and more than 20 goals. He is big, he can hit but mostly he doesn't get hit. He has a good puck control and, like you said, he's starting to have a nice chemistry with Eller. I've been a long time fan of the habs, but this year is the first in a while in which I don't watch everygame and if AK get traded, it's the end of the CH for me. I'll have to find a other team.

Anonymous said...

JT! If I am going to be a regular visitor I need to have some sort of schedule of posts. I cant just go through withdrawal and not have a clue when the next posting it is coming........

Mark

J.T. said...

@Mark: No problem. I'll just check with my three kids and my husband and my full-time job that requires me to start at 5:30am and see when they'd like me to schedule more blog posts. When I have the schedule, I'll pass it on.

J.T. said...

@Mark again: Sorry. If that came off as overly sarcastic, it wasn't meant to. It was meant to be only a little bit sarcastic. Seriously though, I like to put some thought and research into my posts and not just throw up a bunch of line combinations or crap like that. I just don't have the time to devote to it more often right now, and honestly, I'm so disappointed and mad at the team, my heart's not really in it. I do appreciate your dropping by, though.

The Spirit of Cook said...

Hi JT,

During last off-season I mentioned that the Habs should re-sign Kostitsyn because they simply needed his combination of size and skill. I also advocated getting a player of the likes of Laich (who re-signed with Washington). When they got Cole instead I was a little worried because I wasn't sure if he was "over-the-hill". Well as it turns out, Cole's presence on the team has really, in my opinion, opened it up for Kostitsyn and Pacioretty. It's like his example shows them how to play big while his presence gives them some more room. As much as I liked Cammy, I think replacing him with Bourque also works well. I have never been a proponent of the "get bigger and tougher" crowd but it looks to work in this case .. mind you they are way below the playoff bubble now so maybe it is just optics?

The interesting thing for me is what they do next? I really find myself hoping that they tank some what given that I thought this year's draft is supposed to be fairly deep. I'd like to see them take a real shot at signing Moen and Kostitsyn now (otherwise if they feel they are going elsewhere they need to move those two for assets). I think it is time to send Gill to a contended with the respect and thanks he deserves. Find a team that can give up assets (draft picks or youngsters) for Weber (he will do well somewhere). I think they have to take a hard look at moving Desharnais too. He's done well but is there room for him on a team with Gionta and Gallagher? Either find a partner for Gomez or bury him in Hamilton this off-season.

KmaXXX said...

I'm gonna add my voice to those saying "Yes" to Mr. Tits. Nothing wrong with having more than 1 large forward not afraid to use his size and crash the goalie. And he has a wicked snap when he wants to. If he can be re-signed for under 4m per season I say Пойти на это!

Steve said...

and JT maybe you could give up one kid, three is really extravagant

J.T. said...

@Steve: Believe me, I've thought about it!

pfhabs said...

JT

for one with so many responsibilities you continue to produce gems of insight. assuming Geoff Molson rids us of Gauthier soon than later I believe under a new system, with a understood role, managed expectations and regular linemates AK will flourish. my fear is that Molson doesn't act soon enough and Gauthier once again weaves his special player evaluation magic and trades AK for a mid level pic

keep up the good work and excellent time management skills

Nic said...

Great Post! You can also add to all the love fest Andrei's role in Alexei Emelin's development. He could play a similar role with Yakupov or Grigorenko...