Monday, July 13, 2009

Gagnon Asks:

Who Will You Blame Now?

Could be an interesting debate, but I feel the answer's already in.

Maybe Francois has missed it, maybe I'm imagining things, but from what I saw and read the people who blamed Koivu for everything wrong with their team and their failed dreams moved on to Andrei Kostitsyn some time around March.

Why Kostitsyn?

Indeed, I have asked that question myself. I suppose for people who could find ways to blame Koivu for all ills of the past 5 years, though, the question isn't why Andrei, but why not?

Coming from that angle, you can really start to narrow down the choices, and it makes it easier than justifying why (especially for players who are doing just fine, best among their peers, even). You can eliminate those that you'll never be able to get a critical mass of booers behind and those that you wouldn't ever criticise thanks to their special skills.

Why not blame:

We've done our work now, he's a goner. Check it out, we even dug up this really relevant Ribeiro stuff a few days before the playoffs as a going away present

That committee is already established to work in cooperation with this one

Injured and no one would buy it

Bouillon? Dandenault? O'Byrne?
As bad as they are sometimes, they don't play enough to change outcomes

I can't believe how humble he is, and so strong to come back to Montreal, too (actually, same as above)

Kostopoulos? Latendresse? Lapierre? Metropolit?
Trying their best, just have limits

He is making it hard on us. We certainly don't like that he doesn't speak French, but then he doesn't really speak at all. Plus, slamming the best player we have might make us look stupid

Price? Halak?
Can't criticise goalies, all commentators (all former goalies) will get angry

Come on...

Blocks like 2456 shots while playing goalie on the PP

Sergei Kostitsyn? D'Agostini? Pacioretty?
Young, learning to play in the NHL

He'd probably want to sit in on meetings and table new reasons to criticise, too much work

Getting his trade value to sink any lower could be really counterproductive here

Good possibility, but he's oh so boring

He might cry to the commissioner or tell us we're not in his league

Doesn't react to criticism – may react by spiting us

See, you can really start to narrow down with a little view into the mind of a Saku critic:

Yup, Andrei Kostistyn really doesn't offer us any reason to not choose him. It's his own fault really. Yes he may be our best first round pick in 10 years, but in a way that's what we look for – first rounders who succeed. Plus, we could have had so many others in his place (though without Koivu, they'd be right in line for this prestigious place themselves). We can also keep our embroidered Coalition to Oust Captain Koivu (COCK) gear – we'll just think of a new "C".

There may not have been a good reason to criticise Kostitsyn in January when the Coalition to Oust Captain Koivu general meeting decided they had achieved their most recent mandate. Luckily, someone noted that being a 25-goalscorer with so many goals already, he'd probably go through a statistical slump that they could talk up no matter how he actually played. Another coalition member left smugly (with a leave it to me guys) confident that years of noticing Koivu didn't shake hands with every child would stand him in good stead to rustle up hype over a deplorable act.

The scandal

Remember the scandal? Of course you do.

Now we all call it the scandal, but of course with the benefit of the facts, we know that in terms of criminal seriousness, the Kostitsyns were not in trouble at all. Sure they were mentioned. Sure, it was a distraction (though strangely it seemed to spark wins, not losses). And of course the great organization would want to avoid things like this. But really it was pretty low-key.

Tellingly, the night before the "scandal" broke, the cartoon tabloid writers were drumming up one heck of a storm. To borrow from James Mirtle's piece on the topic:
Jacques Demers: "Honestly, there are things I know, and what looks like what's going to come out [in the papers] tomorrow, I swear to you, I thought about Mr. Beliveau tonight ... and I just hope I'm dreaming. I'm a proud Canadien, the Canadiens are my life, and I hope I'm dreaming but I don't think I am."

Michel Bergeron: "I feel the same way. It's unbelievable. Tomorrow, hockey will be second. I don't like at all what I've heard today."

Bob Hartley: "If everything we've been told is true, I've never seen that in my life. If it's true, I'm going back to Atlanta [joking]"

Michel Bergeron: "The Canadiens are my roots, and my idols, like you guys...and it looks like the foundation is going to be shaken. Not just for the Quebecois but for anyone who wears the Canadiens sweater around the country. To me, what's happened, it's unacceptable". reporter Rejean Tremblay, meanwhile, said he's recently received calls from police, a lawyer and those close to the team, and that the tales he's hearing are "juicy."

Let me join with James in asking what all the fuss was about back then:
"For now, given what information we have, I think you can chalk all this up to the fact these are two young guys from another country who were caught up in the wrong crowd."

Yet the damage to the Kostistyns has been done, hasn't it?

No one really cared whether they were criminal or not, what will be remembered is that game with frenzied hacks claiming the scoop of the century – and that said scoop implicated the Belarussians. It's propaganda 101, people don't care too much about the facts. Give them a "juicy" (to borrow a term from the man himself) headline and they'll remember that.

Gagnon himself

Am I dreaming that it's Kostitsyn. Apparently not. The man asking the question in July answered his own question 2 months earlier.

May 5th, 2009 on Team 990 radio (look for it in the little player on the right hand part of the screen) – Francois Gagnon did a number on the alpha target and thought he'd throw Sergei under the same train.

And, since "Gagnon is always scrupulously fair and brilliantly analytical in his assessments of players and teams", it won't be long before the rest of the media catch up to this little trend.

Jacques Demers

Now I'm not suggesting that Jacques Demers is some kind of mastermind behind the Koivu coup or that he had anything to do with targeting Andrei Kostitsyn. But for me Jacques is a bit of a bell weather. That's to say, he seems to get swept along by whatever underlying campaign is currently ongoing.

His capacity to be down on Kostitsyn before games, in between periods and after games was amazing. It would only take 3 goals without a goal sometimes (did I mention 25-goalscorer = 1 goal every 3 games or so) to call for him to be sat down. After that news story broke, though, every penalty by Kostitsyn became a crime, every bad line change was reason for analysis and discussion, every time he passed he should have shot, every time he shot he should have passed.

And while certain players benefit from the "learning the game" excuse, there's no such excuse for Kostitsyn. He's spent that now (he of 186 NHL games). It was interesting to see how a player scoring 49 goals over two seasons could be trashed so thoroughly towards the end of this past season. It was fun when juxtaposed with the hyperbole reserved for others scoring 30 goals over – talked up as the most glorious progression a prospect has ever seen.

It will be a shame if Kostitsyn really does cop it for the lack of another lightning rod (Koivu)on the team. Perhaps Gainey thought he could protect him by bringing in the two highest paid Canadiens ever – one of whom is sure to do less than his salary, draft status, trade return or signees missed to take him would warrant. Perhaps, he'll be gone as Gagnon so rabidly asserted.

I can only hope that those who wish to spread displeasure for the sake of it – no matter what shape their coalition now takes – will be the most disappointed of all Habs "fans" this season.

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