Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Insufferable Gagnon

Character Assassin At It Again

I've told you all about Francois Gagnon before, but let me assure you I wouldn't be writing this article today if I wasn't irate.

Yesterday, Gagnon on a slow news day once again took up his favourite topic: Andrei Kostitsyn. It's another in a long line of attacks on the player, as Gagnon slowly deteriorates into the tabloid caricature that he is now.

His piece begins:

La semaine dernière à Pittsburgh, j’ai mis table pour le match Canadien-Penguins en me posant des questions sur les chances répétées accordées à Andrei Kostitsyn et au fait que les sanctions qu’on lui imposait étaient vite levées.

Je me demandais pourquoi Guillaume Latendresse était «victime» d’une situation inverse.

L’une des raisons est certainement le manque de constance et l’impression de demi-mesure que démontre parfois Guillaume Latendresse. Trop souvent à mon goût si je peux me permettre d’en rajouter un peu.

Cela dit, le plus vieux des frères K n’est pas un exemple d’éthique de travail et de don inconditionnel de soi pour la cause et l’équipe...

While he asks whether Guillaume is suffering from a double standard while his sanctions are not lifted as promptly as AK46's, despite (what Gagnon says is) a virtual carbon copy career.

First off, I'll be clear here. I think both players should be within the top 6 players. I have been saying that since the summer, I have been consistent in my call for best hands on deck on offence. I can't say I approve of Jacques Martin's approach to teaching (punishing) young forwards, but I accept that he is probably trying to do it for rewards down the line.

I didn't want to get into an Andrei vs. Guillaume post, because who's 5 and 6 in the top 6 isn't really that relevant to me at the moment when our offence needs a 5 or a 6 to emerge at all. I approach this as a statement of the facts that have been misused, misquoted and used to mislead. Guillaume Latendresse and Andrei Kostitsyn have not, for a start, had carbon copy careers.


Throughout Gagnon's piece, the continual implication is that Latendresse hasn't been given a fair shake with the Habs. While, there may certainly be a case with Jacques Martin's one month of handling personnel decisions, to extend the conclusion to a career is ludicrous.

A little education on Latendresse for those (like Gagnon, and Latendresse himself!) who really can't remember past this September:

Latendresse's rookie year, he played 36 games on one of the top two lines. His longest stint was not limited to 3 or 4 games as Guillaume cries about now, but rather 18 consecutive games with Saku Koivu from game 14 to game 31 of 2006-07.

And he hasn't been deprived of chances latterly either. In 2007-08, Kostitsyn started with a 5 game audition on Grabovski's wing with Kovalev, but from games 6 to 13 in 2007-08, it was Guillaume who got first dibs on trying the Plekanec, Kovalev combination.

His single goal was to be typical of all his future auditions. Take last season for example. Far from a couple of games, Guillaume actually started the first ten games on the top line for the Habs with Koivu and Tanguay. The line was agreat success, but Carbonneau must have deemed that Koivu and Tanguay were the main catalyst (they were) as Guilaume for his 7 points, only managed one goal again.

In all, he's played 76 games on one of the top two lines, and that's to say nothing of the times he's played on Robert Lang, Bryan Smolinski and Maxim Lapierre's line and received top ice time. To say Latendresse hasn't had a fair shake, therefore, is more than a bit disingenuous, and Gagnon must know it. He's had many, at least 4 or 5 very extended long looks and each time the coaches in charge have decided against granting him the permanent freedom of that designation.

Kostitsyn isn't really so different. He too has been given chances. The main difference being that in 2007-08 he made it count to the tune of 20 goals in his last 46 games.

But know this, as well. Andrei Kostitsyn got his chance after serving an apprenticeship in the AHL of almost 3 seasons. He played 180 games in all down in Hamilton where he scored 51 goals and 71 assists. His final season was 2006-07 where (with Guillaume 2 years his junior already in the NHL) he scored 20 goals and 32 assists in 50 contests.

When he came up to the NHL and finally earned a top line position around Game 63 of the 2006-07 season, he seized his opportunity by earning 11 points in those last 18 games. What's more, for his decent points total, his line was a constant threat and Plekanec was set alight with Andrei at the side.

Even then, nothing was earned for the young Belarussian. Leading the Hamilton Bulldogs in scoring, playing inspired hockey with the entrenched number 2 centre and already acknowledged for his talent was not enough to get a pass. Nor should it have been. As mentioned, once Grabovski sunk, it was Latendresse who auditioned for the wing to complement Pleks and Kovalev. Only after 8 games of Guillaume's tantalizing size, teamed with frustratingly few goals did Carbo shift Andrei in. Though Andrei did well, he like Gui didn't explode for points. But perhaps he was saved by the fact that Plekanec and Kovalev looked better with him at their side. Carbo's rare patience wasn't tested too much either, since Kostitsyn within a month of being given the opportunity was driving the line into December.

Stats play

One of the things that most frustrated me about Gagnon's thin excuse for journalism was this:

Kostitsyn qui a joué avec Plekanec et Alex Kostitsyn pendant une saison, qui est presque toujours au sein des deux premiers trios et qui profite d’une majorité d’attaques massives affiche 53 buts en 200 matchs dans la LNH.

Latendresse? Son but de samedi était son 48e en 223 parties.

Le Québécois n’a donc marqué que cinq buts de moins que son coéquipier en dépit d’une utilisation beaucoup plus timide.

It's a classic hatchet job on the stats. Opportunity to incorporate 34 games for Andrei where he largely did nothing during his adjustment (3 G in 34 games). Opportunity to ignore assists and what we can all see with our eyes altogether. Opportunity to put similar totals side by said and say they are the same.

It's a mess. Start with the goals. 53 in 200 is not 48 in 223. Andrei's scoring 0.265 goals a game, while Gui's clocking up 0.215. it may not seem like much, except over 82 games it's 4 goals – the difference between a proven 20 goalscorer for instance, and an aspiring one.

Next the assists. I think we know hockey is more than goals by individuals. Even with all the flaws of assists as a stat, I think we can appreciate that someone with an assist has contributed somewhat to a goal. I think we can appreciate how someone with 59 career assists has done a lot more than someone with 38. Pro-rate those and you get 0.295 vs. 0.156.

But let's all be sensible here. We have been watching as well. Until 2 years ago, Andrei Kostitsyn was a name to us, but not a player. In the two seasons since, he has actually been a 26 and a 23 goalscorer and had flashes of brilliance. Guillaume on the other hand has been about as good as the day of his promotion for the past 3 years. His rookie season he was a 16 goal man, the next season the same. Last season 14 goals. Seeing him as a one-day 20 goalscorer is debate enough, putting him the proven category is daydreaming.

Gagnon called out

The one thing I take heart from is the fact that Gagnon's blog generated a lot of commentary yesterday. And, while there were plenty of sycophants hoping for a pat on the back in return, a vast number (perhaps even the majority) of readers told him largely what I just told you.

Paul Bernier said this:
Quand on a plus rien à écrire, on parle de Latendresse.

Ceux qui connaissent un tant soit peu leur hockey voient indéniablement la différence de talent brut entre AK et Latendresse. AK est en court de changer sa façon de travailler, son implication au jeu. Quand ceci arrive, un joueur est déboussolé, déstabilisé, il perd ses repères.

Croyez-moi, son jeu se replacera très bientôt, et vous ne le reconnaitrez plus.

En ce qui concerne Latendresse, il ne peut donner plus que ce qu’il a présentement. Il se place encore à 10′ de la face du gardien malgré toutes les directives et se sort systématiquement du jeu à chaque mise en échec, comme un Peewee. Le talent ne s’apprend ou ne s’achète pas, malheureusement.

Jejol8 said this:
C’est très gentil pour Latendresse… mais Kostitsyn a beaucoup, mais là vraiment beaucoup plus de potentiel et c’est la raison pour laquelle on lui donne plus de chances.

“C’tivident” non??

Teamstef said this:
Lâchez-nous avec Guillaume! Non mais sérieusement, c’est fatiguant cette histoire qui revient toujours sur la table avec les médias franco. Guillaume la victime! SVP! Andrei a déjà montré qu’il pouvait dominer. Je n’ai pas encore vû ça de Guillaume.

De toute façon, quand on est rendu à dire que Guillaime Latendresse dervait être sur le deuxième trio d’une équipe de la LNH, c’est vraiment qu’on a pas de club!

It continues...

Francois Gagnon, in his unexplained character assassination attempt on the Kostitsyns is apparently only digging his own grave. I can only assume he's consumed with it and doesn't even realise. If I ever descend into this state, I implore you all – tell me.

The Habs top lines then

All this to say, it's all nonsense. If the Canadiens want to score more goals they must stop trying to choose between Kostitsyn and Latendresse and choose the two of them. Yes Kostitsyn is ultimately the more talented, but Guilaume has his merits and at his best offers the 6th best skill set on the team.

I suppose the day that Glen Metropolit and Travis Moen stop scoring from behind the goal line is the day the coach can put his best PP out and start forming lines that will last.

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