Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bye bye SK74

Sergei Kostitsyn was suspended again by the Habs on Wednesday after packing up all his things and leaving the Hamilton Bulldogs a day earlier.

I know that Sergei has not been a model citizen, but I think the time is right to ask a pretty touchy question, or a couple of them for that matter. Do Russian (read: former Soviet) players need to be given special treatment? And, in light of the Canadiens problems in the past few years dealing with these players, is the team at fault for lacking the cultural sensitivity required here?

For the first question, the answer should be a screaming "NO!" but in reality is that the case? I'm not sure. Maybe the cultural adjustment for Russian players requires special nurturing? Maybe the style of hockey taught there doesn't transition as easily to North America as the styles taught in Sweden or the Czech Republic? The number of Russian players who want to come here is dwindling every year, and while a lot of that has to do with the lack of a transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL, I can't help but feel that hearing stories of nightmarish culture shock may also have a role to play in the decision-making of some young players.

I don't know the answer to that second question either, but it's worth asking when you consider the list of wayward Russian talent that is no longer with the Canadiens. Going back 15 years, I would say that the only two Russian players to have had success here without creating even a hint of controversy or public outcry over their poor play were Andrei Markov and, don't laugh, Oleg Petrov.

Otherwise, you've had Alex Kovalev (he was not quite so adored during his down year three seasons ago, and most of this city wanted him traded at the time. Or had you already forgotten?), the Kostitsyn boys, Mikhail Grabovski, Pavel Valentenko, Alexander Perezhogin, Alexei Yemelin (who doesn't even want to come here, is that based on the organization's reputation?), Sergei Samsonov, Dainius Zubrus, Andrei Kovalenko, Vladimir Malakhov, the late Sergei Zholtok (who was pretty damn good in my books, just played on a bad team) and Valeri Bure.

To me, that seems like an inordinate number of players who share the same cultural background having trouble in one organization in a relatively short period of time.

I don't want anyone to take this as some accusation of systemic racism in the Canadiens organization, because it's not. Far from it. If the organization had decided it didn't like Russian players, why would they continue drafting them, as they did this summer with Alexander Avtsin (who, by the way, has no points and has played only six games thus far with the top division Moscow Dynamo club this season, in case you're wondering)?

No, this is not a witch hunt for racist undertones, it's simply a question based on available evidence. Zubrus has turned into a pretty good player since he left here, Samsonov is not a superstar but he's not nearly as bad as he was here, and even Kovalenko had a 32-goal season in Edmonton one season after being traded away from Montreal.

Listen, I know Sergei K. had his warts, that he had major discipline issues, that he had a sense of entitlement that was founded on one half of a season two years ago, and that he was the oil to Jacques Martin's water. But the Canadiens have now seemingly lost another player with undeniable NHL talent, and the chances of getting anything of value for him on the trade market is almost nil, because no GM with half a brain would offer the Canadiens anywhere near Sergei's actual market value in a trade.

While Sergei K. definitely had a major part to play in his own demise with the club, I'm wondering if the organization didn't have its own tiny role to play in it as well?

UPDATE (9:33 p.m.) According to Marc-Antoine Godin of La Presse, Sergei Kostitsyn has actually changed his mind and is heading back to Hamilton. Kostitsyn's agent Don Meehan didn't appear to be very impressed with his client's decision to leave the Bulldogs and said the kid was supposed to meet with Bob Gainey in Montreal today. Could this mean a trade is in the works and Sergei just needed to be convinced of it by Gainey? Let the speculation begin...


pfhabs said...


-excellent points that need answering internally if not for fans' consumption. lots of wasted picks on talented guys who "do not fit in"...makes no sense in such exaggerated numbers as exist in Montreal especially if you consider what happened to Malakov as an example

-for Yemelin it has been reported that it was the cash of the KHL vs what Gainey would give...that argument doesn't seem to hold much water any longer when you remember the splurge on July 1

-for Valentenko, I know for certain via the agent that the kid is supporting 2 families back home and the $85,000 in Hamilton didn't stack up to KHL numbers

-in Sergei's case his timing is just attrocious with both D'Agostini & Pacioretty looking more and more like they need another season in Hamilton...SK with another good 1-2 weeks in Hammy probably would have found himself on the #2 line with Plekanecs and brother Andrei...a lose-lose situation now

-your main supposition leaves a lot to be discussed at CH HQ

Yves said...

Arpon... certainly some things to think about here.

I was really high on Sergei when he was in the OHL and after his first pre-season. He had really impressed and I remember Carbo saying it was hard not to keep him in Montreal.

Had high hopes for him coming into this season as well, Sergei does have great talent and it's too bad it's come to this.

If Sergei is gone and Andrei stays... I think it could go either way. Maybe it would be better for Andrei without Sergei... or it could go the other way where we completely loose Andrei as well.

This seems to somehow be a continuation of drama that started last year.

jkr said...

I don't buy the cultural adjustment theme when it comes to SK. He came to Canada a played a couple of years with London. He knew what it was like in North America. My impression is that he has a sense of entitlement - he wants a spot without truly earning it & that's not the team's fault. PFHABS observation about his timing is right on the mark - with Pacioretty & D'Agostini stumbling he was probably due for a call up.

BTW, there was a couple of articles written about his positive attitude with the Bulldogs. What happened to that?

Sliver24 said...

I think the problem lies with the players, not the team. It's not like there are dozens of Russian players out there that are their club's go-to-guys. In fact, I can only think of two.

According to there are only 31 NHLers from Russia (26), Belarus (3) and Ukraine (2) - essentially an average of one player per 22-man roster (which I find astonishing!). Together they make up only 4% of the entire league. That's down from 42 players in 2008/09 and 40 in 2007/08.

There's not much doubt that the KHL is a major reason for the decline, as is the lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.

But I also believe that if Russian players were more amenable to life in the NHL there would be a whole lot more of them over here, despite the two factors mentioned above.

To me the real underlying reason is simple: Russian hockey players are prima donnas.

Now, before you all get your knickers in a twist let me make a comparison that will hopefully help you see where I'm coming from.

The culture of professional and high-level amateur hockey in Russia is comparable to the culture of Major League Baseball, whereas the culture in the NHL would be more like that of the Japanese baseball leagues.

In Japan, baseball players toe the party line from the superstars on down. They put the team first. They are expected to be at practice, early or on time, and work hard while they're there. Respect is given not only for raw talent but also for hard work and dedication.

The the Major Leagues stars focus as much on how they perform as on how their team is doing. Players are more concerned with how their long, baggy pants look than they are with maximizing their ability to run the bases. Stars and superstars are routinely given preferential treatment by fans, the media, teams and even their teammates. The bad-ass, play-by-your-own-rules persona is seen as a good thing.

Russian players have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement that has been fostered by a society that assigns privilege based on role rather than merit.

As far as I'm concerned, Russian players that don't want to be here can go play in the KHL; I don't imagine it's a bad life. But I doubt that even they would try to convince you that their league is the best in the world.

To me, any player that would consciously choose to play in a lower-level league over the big-time for selfish reasons is a player that I wouldn't want on my team anyway.

The Russian players I truly respect want to play with the best players in the world. Winning is the only thing they care about. Frankly, I feel the same way about players of any nationality. It just seems to me that most of the Russian players I've seen over the years don't pass the litmus test.

pierre said...

With our hability to score and to defend being stressed as it is under the absence of Markov loosing S.K. represente a blow to our secondary scoring's struggle in ever reaching respectable standard this season.

The only aspect about our team that I was worried about before the season had started was our secondary scoring..... so when S.K. was sent down to Hamilton my worries went up a notch or two.... and when Marcov went down my worries went right up the roof.

I like our present day players's ethic and I also like Martin's system but all of it will mean very little if Gainey cant provide his team the pieces it required in order to be a good scoring team.

The arrival of Bergeron yesterday raised my hope but today's news about S.K. had it collapse again and we are back to square one.

Teams without six legit top six players in their make-up always struggle to no end and i hate it when I see our GM failing us in that regard...... loosing Ribeiro without an equivalant to replaced when it hapenned was bad to our season while loosing S.Kots today will hurt us in the same vain.

Gainey have to be more carefull with that than he is..... Russians or not.

pierre said...

After a meeting with Gainey today S.K. is back with the Bulldogs and on his way with them to Houston for tomorow's game.... La Zone,....Radio-Canada.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they can throw in his brother and Carey for a big-time trade with Chicago.

pmk said...

this guy is stealing my ideas!?

Hockeybuzz: Eric Engels: Gainey Should trade For Frolov, and Sign Shanahan.

pierre said...

Frolov has always been an enigma for LA and has turned into full blowned cancer.... he will be an over priced UFA at the end of the season bound for Russia.

Trading the Bro for him as, suggested by Engels, would be plain stupid for us but very good for LA.

Anonymous said...

hey arp, what do you make of this nonsense about the sergei-gomez late night altercation that led to his demotion? sounds like a load of bs to me but if it is true, even sadder that rather than just shake hands mgmt got involved.

sergei's handled the situation appallingly but i do believe mgmt can share the blame.

sorry sliver, i don't even know where to begin to disagree with you so i'll just say, respectfully disagree.