Monday, September 28, 2009

Bad Attitudes, Bad Habits

Sergei Kostitsyn Not Alone

Didn't take long for my previews to be contradicted, did it?

Sergei Kostitsyn has been demoted to the Hamilton Bulldogs. I had him on the third line making our hockey team a more difficult one to play against. It seems that is something that will wait for a bit of maturation to take place (like a good cheese...).

I should also applaud the majority of you who appear to have this 4-horse race pinned as one between Latendresse and Pacioretty, as indicated by your responses to our poll.

Now it's easy to jump to lots of conclusions here, and in fairness most are probably close. The popular take is that Sergei Kostitsyn is being demoted because he missed the team bus. The extension on that is that he was yelled at (on camera) and was the player to put the most steps wrong at camp. But what is missing from all these tales of intrigue is the fact that Sergei didn't really have a very good camp.

Why is that?

Well, it appears one reason is that Sergei will be a new pin cushion for those that miss Kovalev's "floating", Koivu's "French" and Higgins' failure to live up to their own overblown expectations. Sergei is being tarred and feathered and being kicked off the bandwagon Canadien.

Countless good riddance comments grace the message boards and comment pages today – fans willing to write off a 50-point youngster as easily as that.


Ever since his slumps of early 2009, and his subsequent public humiliation (despite being cleared by law) regarding shady associations, Sergei has been tagged a problem child. And while it certainly looks that way on the outside, with his atrocious line changes coming straight to mind, it might be a tad unfair on the young man. Unfair, because he is clearly not alone in needing an attitude adjustment.

You see, Sergei's attitude problems are overt, expressed in bursts, not often reined in. They're easy to spot, easy to bash. But if you think that we've rid our team of bad attitudes today, you are gravely mistaken.

Take this September. This was the training camp where competition for jobs meant that 4 forwards were vying for one place on a scoring line. It was the training camp where all four stumbled through the steps, did little other than the absolute minimum (at least in game situations).

This was the camp where a new depth of veterans up front meant AHLers who had been in line for a job would have to work hard to make impressions. It was a training camp where more players took steps backwards than forward.

Attitude for me doesn't stop at petulance, tantrums and sulks. Controlling those things are a minimum requirement. But as a fan, I would hope that the attitude being sought includes striving to be better, not just adequate; striving to win; and showing the willingness to work on one's failings.

In this regard, this training camp has highlighted the attitude adjustments needed from players other than Sergei as well; players like his brother Andrei, Latendresse, D'Agostini, Chipchura, Stewart, Lapierre, Gorges and even Price. A lot of young guys who are taking a lot for granted. My specific concern does lie with the battle for the 6th forward place, which was run at a canter and won by a player who missed time injured, never scored and played some good, average hockey with one assist on top-line duty.


I'm always impressed with Latendresse after he speaks, full of praise. He always seems to come across as having one of the best attitudes I've ever known in a prospect as young as him.

But when it comes down to it with Gui, it's really starting to seem like though he can talk the talk, he's not willing or perhaps able to walk the walk.

In the summer, I half-jokingly wrote him some tips on what he should be doing to step through the open door to the top two lines. From the moment he came into camp, he seemed as if he had read that. A summer in Ottawa training seemed to be paying off. But as time goes on in this camp period, what we're seeing is the same remarkable ability to let opportunity slip through the fingers as he's shown at every chance previous.

Yes he's scored goals, and he'll continue to do that. But he hasn't made his lines better on the whole. He hasn't been brave enough to actually be Holmstrom, though he likes to name drop Tomas near nightly. Is it fear? Is it anxiety? Whatever it is, Guillaume, if he really wants to help this team, has to have another think about his own approach and his career goals at this team-building exercise. It's no longer enough to keep saying he knows what to do, yet doing nothing about it. The time to procrastinate is done.


Forgive D'Agostini for missing the boat, he probably never thought he'd be trying to make it in the first place. But just as the door was open for Sergei and Guillaume, so it was for Matt. Goals might have helped, but I tell you it could have been simpler – simple as not looking like one of the lower half of forwards most of the time.

D'Agostini also needs a soul search. If he wants to make a career in the NHL, he should probably reflect on the fact that his skill is scoring and his weakness is defending. Not usually the profile of the low impact third or fourth liner.

Different players, different remedies

As someone who has coached, I know that getting players to recognise their faults, to reflect and eventually (hopefully) to change their attitudes takes an armoury of different attacks.

In Sergei's case, I think they are getting it right. From all I've seen, he is someone who can respond to action. Rather than try to handle him with the kid gloves of the past, this demotion is the kick in the back-side that tells him he's not been good enough. Sure there'll be an outward sulk, but don't be surprised if in a few weeks we're talking about a player with 34 points in 24 games who's chomping at the bit to get his next chance.

I have trouble reading the others. If Guillaume's situation weren't complicated by being the buffer against no French Canadian players in the Habs line up, would he respond to a boot too? I'm not sure he would you know. I estimate that the day after, we'd be hearing from the same philosophical Gui, fully aware of faults as always, down on the farm – no fire lit.

How then to light his fire? It's tricky, but you know this retreat might be just the thing. Perhaps a little JM one on one with Lats can bring him around to the fact that he must act on what he knows needs be done. I'll cross my fingers.

As for D'Agostini, who knows? He was never really anything but the fourth horse in the race anyway. Perhaps all he needs is a few more days to get a taste for this NHL journey before he gets demoted to the AHL again. I don't know. One can only hope that with a taste of this nice new flavour they've concocted in Montreal, Matt would fight with whatever he has to make sure he's part of it.

There, I've said my piece. Though I fully agree with the Sergei Kostitsyn demotion, I am as usual at odds with the way some media choose to take this opportunity to single out one young player, while giving others their free pass, to vilify the Belarussian because it suits their agendas.

Have a good break. Thursday's coming.

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