Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Sagas of Max Pacioretty and Sergei Kostitsyn

Two of our Montreal Canadiens have taken very different paths this year. I clearly don't have the experience to question Jacques Martin, but I do have some objections to the way things have gone down.

Max Pacioretty has been the golden boy for the Canadiens in this year's training camp. He's worked hard over the summer, packed on some muscle and come into camp ready to compete. This has some fans delirious with excitement over his potential, and thrilled that he's pencilled into the top line on the Canadiens alongside Gomez and Gionta, but I'm not one of them. Max is a great prospect, a level headed kid with loads of talent and a projectable frame, but he's 20 years old. As you can see in his TSN page that I linked to, he only managed 9 goals between the AHL and NHL last year in 71 pro games. They didn't record his shooting percentage in the AHL, but in the big leagues it was a whopping 5.26%. Now it's extremely obvious that we have to give Patches the benefit of the doubt because he was a rookie, but in the interest of comparison, Tom "stone hands" Kostopoulos had a shooting percentage of 6.61% last season. It's clear that Montreal wants Max to be a goal scoring power forward, but in order to get there Max needs to develop his shot in the AHL. I'm very sure of this because despite playing top line minutes with talented linemates and diminished competition, Max was unable to convert a single time in the preseason. It's not all negative obviously, or he'd be in Hamilton already, his work along the boards has been great, and he's shown he has the wheels to keep up with Gomez and Gionta. But his puck control is still not great, and he shows how green he is in the offensive zone when he has a scoring chance. He seems to get nervous and in that category Max hasn't impressed me. If he does stay in the NHL this season, at least Martin has made the right decision to make him a top six forward, because playing 3rd and 4th line minutes while splitting time in the pressbox a la Carbo is terrible for the development of such a young player. I'm still high on Max's long term potential, but it pains me to see the Montreal organization make the same mistake over and over. Promoting people too young leads to the 2008-09 seasons of Price, O'Byrne, and Sergei Kostitsyn. I hope I'm dead wrong that this is a mistake, and Pacioretty lights it up, but the part of me that doesn't think with my heart says there's no way Pacioretty can compete with other top line forwards in the NHL at this point, not to mention top tier defenders.

Sergei Kostitsyn's fate this season is much different. Coming into camp rehabbing off season surgery Sergei was rumoured to be out of shape. However when Sergei was finally cleared to play, contrary to what many Habs fans would want you to believe, he played alright for a first game back against Ottawa the night we got blown out 6-1. The next day Sergei missed the team bus to Quebec City, as he was apparently stuck in traffic. My first reaction was to excuse this but Sergei has lived in Montreal most of the last 2 seasons, he should have compensated for traffic like every other player. Once in Quebec City however he played excellent against the Bruins. Lining up on the third line with David Desharnais he was one of the best players on either team. He was skating swiftly getting into confrontations and winning puck battles. It seemed like he'd woken up and came to play. After being scratched for the game against the Penguins Sergei was called out during practice for not being in the right position, which was also caught on video. Despite being reamed out by the coach, Sergei was back in the lineup against the Bruins the next game, and once again was one of the better players on the ice. Again playing most of the game on the third line, his first shift in a top 6 role he and Tomas Plekanec caught Tim Thomas sleeping off a faceoff and Sergei banging in a goal. It seemed that despite playing well in two straight games the writing was on the wall that Jacques Martin didn't like Sergei's attitude, and Sergei wasn't buying into the system well enough to stick with the big club. However when Sergei was sent down was awkward timing, as it was right before a team building retreat in Caledon, Ontario. Perhaps the coaching staff felt that his bad attitude would have a negative impact on the team building excercises, but to me it seemed like the lazy way out. Instead of recognizing the talent Kostitsyn has and attempting to adjust his attitude personally, Martin shifted the responsibility to Guy Boucher in Hamilton. It's also a possibility that Martin was sending a message to the rest of the team that bad attitudes won't be tolerated, but it doesn't sit well with me. A short time later Sergei Kostitsyn refused to report to the Bulldogs, and through a representative (not identified but likely Don "I constantly move my clients and I'm a money grubbing asshole" Meehan) informed Bob Gainey that he wanted to be traded out of Montreal. While I think Sergei was treated slightly unfairly this year in the WAY he was sent down, especially since Pacioretty did not earn his spot, and Gregory Stewart had a terrible camp until his last few shifts, I have to ask the question, who does he think he is? Sergei is a talented 22 year old player, but demanding a trade after being sent on a very obviously temporary trip to the minors at his age? Give me a break. I find this incredibly hard to take because I really like Sergei as a player, his style is rough, a little dirty and he has a great nose for the net, not to mention great vision. But Max Lapierre faced a similar though less harsh in timing demotion two years ago, but he never batted an eyelash. He took it like a man, worked his ass off in Hamilton until the Canadiens had no choice but to bring him back up. I'm disappointed in you Sergei. And this is a fan of yours speaking.

As for what will result from this trade request, I think Gainey hinted during his interviews today as to what the outcome could be. Most importantly to me Gainey didn't seem to angry about it. This tells me that he understands that Sergei is still a young, overemotional person who's passion sometimes gets in the way of making proper decisions. Gainey also stated that he doesn't see this trade request as a top priority. Bob knows how the NHL works, and he isn't going to trade Sergei when his value is as low as it could possibly be. Despite what TSN would have you believe with Bob McKenzie giving him advice on the air, this isn't a rookie GM we're talking about here. You could see in Bob's veiled smile that he already knows exactly what's going to happen here. Eventually Sergei is going to calm down, he'll report to Hamilton and play well, probably on the first line with Maxwell, and if his attitude adjusts he may even wear the CH again this very season, although I'm sure the fans at the Bell Centre will give him a nice round of boos to start. Worst comes to worst, once Kostitsyn starts to play better in Hamilton, Bob will package him in a trade at some point in the season for something he thinks he needs to add to the team.

As for those who think this situation is unique to Montreal, and that management is somehow to blame in entirety, pointing out all the prospects Montreal has lost to supposed "mismanagement", Ilja Zubov of the Senators has done the exact same thing as Sergei Kostitsyn today. Upon being sent down to Binghamton, Zubov demanded a trade, and he doesn't even have the questionable production in the big leagues that Sergei has! So we can stop being down on the Habs for imaginary reasons, and look forward to how the season may unfold. Let's hope that this small drama will be the only off ice issue we have to look at in 2009-10.


  1. Great post, Andrew. One of the problems with both of these players was the fact that they had to be called up before they were ready in order to fill in for injured players. Same goes for Ben Maxwell who really looked out of place last year in Montreal. There really doesn't seem to any real overall plan here in terms of developing young players and it's only made worse by the fact that we let them leave town just before they are ready to blossom. We're running out of time as well as good kids. I'm at a loss as to why Gainey can't see this and implement an action plan.

  2. It is very troubling Steve. In fact it's the only thing about Gainey that really worries me. Being called up for short stints as Maxwell was last year doesn't bother me as much, it gives players a taste of how good they need to be, but the promotion of players like Kostitsyn, Price and Pacioretty before they had a full season in Hamilton worries me greatly.

  3. Great post.

    I have to say... ever since Sergei had broken into the the league a couple of years back I've been a fan of his. He does have skill.... potential to become a very good offensive player.

    Last year, when all the drama came about with the organised crime accusations... it was a serious question on his maturity and judgement for sure.... but I thought it could be something to learn from. And grow.

    But, like you mentioned, demand a trade at 22 years old... when you really haven't accomplished anything at the NHL level? His trade request is a little much. I think it shows his lack of maturity.

    Lot's of other guys have had to go down to the minors and have been very disappointed because of it. Kyle Chipchura, Maxim Lapierre... Ryan O'Byrne seems to be a good example. He had a bad year last season. This year he's worked his tail off and is really trying to fill the role they want him to play.

    If only Sergei could learn from this. That's what I would hope. But I'm not sure if he will. I get the feeling that Sergei is out for himself first. Wish I was wrong.

    One thing Montreal doesn't need this year is more drama.... and just before the season starts... there it is.

  4. Yves: Completely agree on all counts. Sergei needs to get over being emotionally let down and show what he's got. I know he has the skill to contribute at the NHL level, all he has to do is show that he's willing to put in the effort to be competitive.

    The drama never seems to stop around the Canadiens these days... Sad.