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...