Friday, August 12, 2011

Andrei Needs To Go?

Almost couldn't believe my eyes when I read the headline this morning:

"Montreal Canadiens’ Andrei Kostitsyn has got to go"

The sensational headline will be clicked on all day by supporters and those who wanted this nascent thought reaffirmed anyway.

The problem I have is not necessarily with the headline (I understand trying to hook a reader), but as usual with the quick and dirty research that went into backing up a story with such a contentious stance.

First of all, the article uses average stats available to anyone and everyone, despite the fact the author has special access to the team. What's more, I read Puck Daddy's article last night and this one barely misses a step as it retraces arguments.

Context for instance would be nice, seeing as we all did watch this thing unfold anyway. Let's divide the season using some sense, shall we:

Games 1-12: Andrei started the season on the top line with Plekanec and Cammalleri. 6 G and 4 A in 12 games.

Games 13-19: Andrei is moved to help get Gomez going. The first game is with Gionta, the next 6 are mostly spent with Lapierre and Gomez. 1 G and 3 A in 7 games.

Games 20-29: Andrei is moved back to the new first line.

Game 30: Gomez is injured in Game 28 and misses 2 games. As a result the top 6 is now a top 4 (sorry Ben). As a result, Andrei gets another game back with Pleks and Cammalleri.

Game 31-42: Pacioretty called up and granted his wish/demand. Top 6 duty all the time (maybe Pouliot/Kostitsyn/Eller didn't notice the success of this approach?). Andrei largely finds a place on the Plekanec and Cammalleri line.

Games 43-44: Cammalleri misses two games. Total line disarray, except for Gomez/Gionta/Pacioretty. Andrei experimented on a line with Jeff Halpern.

Game 45-46: Cammalleri back for two games, Andrei stays with Halpern and Moen.

Games 47-50: Cammalleri out long term. Canadiens top 6 becomes top 5 again. Kostitsyn united with Eller and Plekanec for the most part for 4 game trial.

Games 51-60: Gomez and Plekanec swap for most games to get Gionta and Pacioretty firing. Predictable results for Andrei given last stint. This is a very big slump for Andrei on the gamelog as he only records a single assist. His PP time is 15 minutes over 10 games, half of what the top options were getting.

Games 61-67: Cammalleri back for outdoor game #59. After one game of rehab the top 6 is reassessed. Kostitsyn is adjudged to be out. Plays on a line with Eller (at the time a 3 G, 4 A rookie) and Travis (hands) Moen. But Kostitsyn makes good and is easily the hottest player on the team, Eller the second. Andrei records 4 G and 6 A from games 61 to 70.

Games 68-70: Pacioretty injured in Game 67 -- a full-time (no exceptions) member of the top 6 is removed from the deck. Pouliot trialed, Halpern trialed!!!

Games 71-74: Plekanec misses games. Out of necessity, Kostitsyn re-promoted
to Cammalleri's line, still with Eller.

Games 75-77: Plek returns. Andrei stays with Eller. Andrei turns in the best goal production in goals by forwards from games 71-77 (3 G)

Games 78-82: The line wheel is spun one last time and Andrei ends the season where he began with Pleks and Cammalleri. Line clicks well enough to keep it intact for the playoffs. Andrei has 3 assists in 5 games.

Key events:

Gomez slump
Martin determines his priority is to get Gomez going (I think we all agreed it was worth the experiment at the time too). Kostitsyn is the trial man.

Pacioretty call-up
Pacioretty gets his wish and plays with Gionta pretty much every time he steps on the ice. He mostly gets Gomez with a healthy dash of PLekanec

Cammalleri return from injury
The 5 are suddenly a 6 and the line combinations become more flexible. Kostitsyn odd man out in favour of some questionable options.

Pacioretty injury
Window of opportunity for Andrei? Think again, Pouliot and Halpern gievn the bit.

Like probably every player in the league, Kostitsyn sees things from his own point of view first. From his point of view, it seems that he had a good start and things went down from there. From his point of view it seems he was used to kick start players, but unless there was another reason (injury) there weren't really attempts to kickstart him. From his point of view Pacioretty jumped the queue, Desharnais did for a little while too. From his point of view ice time is not the determining factor of first/second/third line, who is on the line is.

Some of his point of view is fair and some isn't.

It is fair, for example, that he resents being stripped from the top line at Game 13 to help 3 point Gionta and 3 point Gomez. It is fair that he feels a bit slighted that others were tried first before him when Cammalleri got injured.

Andrei probably does need to calm down too. he did slump at a pretty inopportune time (Cammalleri injury) and this rightly coloured coaching decisions for 15 games afterwards. He may have been on the third line in his mind (Eller), but in ice time and production he should probably re-evaluate that stint and recognise Martin did a favour by letting him find chemistry with Eller.

Does he need to go?

Well of course not.

What probably does need to go is the sensational half thoughts that led to this conclusion.

Even if the GM did want to trade him (and he might have wanted that anyway with contract status and all), the timing would be at its near worst to move right now. All but the most myopic would see that.

But all stats I collect also point to the fact that Andrei is actually a winning propostion on this team at his current price. The fact that people don't like brooding Russians (Belorussians) shouldn't change that.

In my estimation, everyone should take reports like this seriously, but not always go for the knee-jerk: the player is wrong to speak response. Speaking out isn't the favoured approach and we'd all prefer if this was a private meeting with the GM instead of reporter, but what is said should be taken just as seriously because it gives a window into what one player thinks. What one player thinks might not be an isolated thought. Think team chemistry can be set by ejecting players? Think again, team chemistry is fragile and takes action and proactive moves to keep the balance.

In my estimation, Gauthier does probably need to act here thought. He needs to meet with Jacques Martin to make sure a plan is in place to optimize communication between players, coaches and management. Kostitsyn won't be the only player who likes decisions explained to him, he won't be the only player who needs his ego stroking once in a while. There really is no excuse at all for not getting this right. Egos in sports are not a new thing, and anyone with an ounce of understanding of psychology or even 10 minutes of coaching experience will know that a team of players requires a team of coaching strategies.

So let's all calm down here. Kostitsyn's status shouldn't change based on an unconfirmed report and a bit of research.

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