Can we dump the "let's dump the soft Euros" idea?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

So I'm sure by now you've all read or heard of at least one person complaining that the Habs woes stem from the fact that they have too many Europeans on the team. "Chuck all the Europeans and we'll be all set" seems to be "in" thing to say these days right after the "let's fire Carbo" phrase. This guy in particular seems to think that the Habs should get rid of the Europeans on the team.

I refuse to comment on the Carbonneau thing (for now anyway), but I feel I have to address this whole "the Habs have too many Europeans and that's why they're losing" issue. I'll get this out as plainly as I can:

Nationality has ZERO to do with why the Habs are losing right now. and in case no one noticed, a certain European dude just won the game for them last night. Oh right. Goalies don't count in this whole tirade. Okie then...I'll just go off and hug Halak by myself then.....

There are three main clich├ęs when it comes to Europeans and why they are bad to have on your team. 1) They're soft and get banged around a lot 2) they're only in it for the money 3) they don't care about winning the Stanley Cup and that's why they underperform when they play.

This is probably slightly unfair, but I feel the need to say that when I think of soft players or players who are frequently accused of being soft, I always think of Crosby. I've witnessed enough games where Crosby gets banged around and it's not just because everyone's out to kill "The Favorite Penguin". I'm not saying that he's not talented, but you can be talented and still not play a very physical game. As a perfect counter to this, I have to say that Ovechkin is definitely one European guy who is not soft by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Ovechkin is a perfect counter to any of the arguments that Europeans are soft, only in it for the money, and don't a give a damn about winning.

But let's focus on the Habs, shall we? First off, if you actually break down the nationality of the players on this team then we've got 13 Canadians (7 of which are from Quebec), 4 Americans, 2 and 1/2 Czechs (sorry, Lang, you only count as half a player now), 2 Russians, 2 Belorusians, 1 Finn, and 1 lone Slovak. So that's 17 North Americans and 9 Europeans if we're counting Lang and 15 to 8 if we're not counting any of the injured players (along with Lang, Tanguay and Latendresse are also injured). That's really no where near a European takeover. Not if you want to compare that to Detroit, which has almost as many Swedes as Canadians alone, never mind the rest of the "softy Euros" like Datsyuk and Hossa who hail from Russian and Slovakia respectively.

Back to the Habs.

If memory serves me right, most of our injured players this year were from North America. Komisarek (American), Higgins (American), Dandenault (Canadian), Tanguay (Canadian) and Latendresse (Canadian). These guys were all injured by other players while they were playing (hence the reason why I left out Price, Koivu and Laraque from the list. I also consider Lang's injury a bit of a freak accident so I'm leaving him out too). Komisarek was injured when he fought Milan Lucic who, though he was born and raised in British Columbia, is the son of two people born in Serbia. Tanguay was injured when Evgeny Artyukhin slammed him into the boards when the Habs played Tampa Bay back in January. Yes, people, Artyukhin was born in Russia. And yes, he seems to have a rap for playing rather dirty. I can't remember who injured Higgy, Dandy and Latendresse but it's pretty much safe to assume that they were all injured by Canadians as Higgy and Dandy were injured in the Habs tilt against Calgary back in December (and Calgary carries mostly Canadian players on their team) and Latendresse was injured by (Canadian) Chuck Kobasew when the Habs last played the Bruins. My point here is, does getting hit into the boards and sustaining serious injures make these guys soft? I thought only Europeans got bashed into the boards and sustained bad injuries? Or maybe a bad hit is just a bad hit no matter who's on the receiving end?

I find it hard to believe that all Europeans are just in it for the money, whether it's for themselves only or to support their “poor deprived families back home”. You have to be really obsessed with money to 1) want to work your butt off extra hard to become good enough of a hockey player to get noticed by NHL scouts in the first place (it's a lot harder to get noticed if you're a European player not playing in North America) 2) make the decision to leave your family at a relatively young age and go somewhere else where everything is really different, including the actual game, the language, the culture 3) and let's not forget that you have to put up really good numbers to actually be offered a big contract. No one's going to offer you a 50 million dollar contract if you can't do anything.

Like I said, you'd either have to be that obsessed about money or maybe, just maybe, the players are in it because they genuinely love the game. Why am I getting the feeling that most guys actually care about the sport? Yes, we do hear about the odd guy who scuttles off back to Russia when he gets offered a bigger contract and ends up in a mess because he's now technically signed by two teams. I've got my own thoughts about the KHL and the NHL and their need for a proper transfer agreement but that's a different issue. Just because one or two guys do it - and I don't think that we generally get the full picture about what they left and how they ended up in their situations- doesn't mean that every European player is like that. Sean Avery, I just unfortunately learned, is Canadian and yet we don't get people saying "well, all Canadian players must be super pains and shoot off the mouth and make idiots of themselves at every opportunity because Avery is Canadian and therefore all Canadians must be like him".

When I watch the Habs, I see a bunch of guys who care. So they put up a crap performance now and then (fine, so it's more "now" than "then" these days), but you can care a hell of a lot about the game and still put up a crap game. I think Plekanec has shown that he cares a lot and he works hard out there every night night. Sure, his work almost never pays off for him, but I'd much prefer that he actually try hard every night than just sit on his hands all night. You can't deny either that Lang has been a great part of the team. Not just in the fact that he could score goals and that he worked really hard there, but I'm getting the feeling too that he probably contributed at least a little bit in the dressing room if he was even half as perky in there as he seemed to be on the ice. I’m not sure it’s a total coincidence that the Habs have gone on this whole doom and gloom spree since Lang’s been out.

I think Kovalev cares too, even if it looks like he doesn't these days. It's not right or fair of me or anyone else really, to sit here and accuse him of not caring when I don't know what's going on in his mind. I know that there such a thing as trying too hard and that you often end up doing things that are more complicated or fancier than you would normally do and then it backfires on you. In Kovalev's case, I'm not necessarily surprised that he hasn't performed the way that he has last year. I think it's natural that after coming off a really good performance, you can often go through a slump. Do I wish that it could be different? Yes. Do I wish that he could find a way to come out of this and lead this team to the playoffs? Yes. But guess what? Kovalev is a human being. Shocking, I know. But it's true. He's human. He's prone to highs and lows like the rest of us. Thankfully, the rest of us don't have to go through a slump in front of a very scrutinizing, opinionated and unforgiving city. But Kovy doesn't have that luxury. He has to go through whatever he's going through in front of thousands of people.

No matter what type of slump Kovalev is in, I really don't think that it's true that he doesn't want to win the Stanley Cup and that's why he's playing like crap. Just because it's never been drilled into your head that the Stanley Cup is a must have if you want to be a hockey player when you were a kid, doesn't mean that you won't want to win it badly once you become a pro. If I can become obsessed with this team and wanting them to win the Stanley Cup badly almost overnight after spending my entire life not giving a hoot about hockey, then I think a hockey player - the guy who is the one doing the actual work on and off the ice - can grow to want to win the Stanley Cup. Just a little bit. I don't think there's really any player who joins the NHL with the intention of not giving it everything that they've got. That's ridiculous. No player is even going to make it into the NHL if they can't show some determination and a desire to play at their best. Somewhere along the way someone must have seen some talent in people like Avery and Darcy Tucker. No one brings a kid into the league simply because he's a super pain.

If a player has lost all his passion for the game than it has nothing to do with whether or not he grew up being indoctrinated that winning the Stanley Cup should be his only goal to pursue in life or not. There's a whole host of factors that go into why someone loses the will to want to try to play to the best of his abilities. And I'm not about to go and speculate on what those may be. There is a difference between caring a lot and producing good results and not caring one bit and not producing good results. We automatically assume bad or sloppy playing is coupled with the players not caring. It's not. Unless you can get into the mind of the players, you can't say for certain what's going on in their brains when they play.

Going back to that infuriating article, there was one bit where the author said that Carbonneau doesn't need to tell Kostopoulos or Begin to give 100% before a game. Carbo could attempt to pass on a message to a Russian like Sergei Kostitsyn, but the same message that whips up a Quebecois could have an reverse effect on a Russian (never mind the fact that Sergei is from Belarus and not Russia). Apparently this is "natural" because Carbo can't understand the mentality of a young European player whereas he'd be able to react better to a Quebecois because he's from here as well.

Now this is absolute rubbish.

If Carbo can't whip up all but the seven Quebecers on his team then he needs to be fired immediately. Nationality or coming from a certain background should have no bearing on whether a coach can inspire his players to perform the best to their abilities. If he can't "get" a player just because he grew up in a different environment than he did, then the only player that Carbo would be able to react properly to would be Brisebois because Breezer is only guy on that team who is remotely close to Carbo's age (there's about a ten year gap if you want to know) and they both grew up in the same province. No offense to Breezer or anything, but you do need more than one guy in his late thirties to play a hockey game. While I will concede that linguistic barriers are a realistic problem, I'd be pretty willing to bet a fair bit that Bruce Boudreau and Mike Babcock can't speak Russian and Swedish respectively, and yet somehow they get all those foreigners to play the way they want them to on most nights. Carbo should be able to exact what he wants out of his players regardless of what language they speak. I agree that the same thing you say to a Quebecois might not work on a Belorusian. But that's no excuse for why you can't get said Belorusian to be motivated to play. If Carbonneau has to send up smoke signals to communicate with his players and get them to work their butts off in a manner that produces results, then so be it. Whatever works.

I could write up an entire book on why I believe people throw out these blanket statements filled with generalizations that make no sense when you really think about, but I won’t. I’ll just say this: Stop bashing the Europeans on the team simply because they happen to be born in a different continent. Nationality has nothing to do with what’s going on right now. Blaming these guys like this is about the lowest form you can sink to. Even lower than calling out the goalie for an entire embarrassing loss. People here in Quebec (and the rest of Canada) are very knowledgeable when it comes to hockey and in particular when it comes down to the Les Glorieux. It's something that we take pride in. But saying things like this is not smart and no one should be proud of saying these things. Quite honestly, these sentiments are borderlining on bigotry. This is a fantastic game. One of my favorite aspects of it being able to share it with other people. There's no need to be selfish and hog it all to ourselves. If other people from around the world want to share in it, and be a part if it, then I believe that's fantastic and we should be more open. Thankfully just because a few people say stupid things doesn't mean that we all share those views.

Go Habs Go!


Grrrreg said...

AMAZING! Oooh I think I'm falling in love.

Once again, I agree with every single word you wrote here. The more I read you, the more I like this blog.

Eternal Pessimist said...

Well, you got me started on that one. It had been bugging me for a while but when you pointed out that article I just had to say something. my brain is too fried to even think about tonight's game now.....

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