Canucks and Beyond

Must NHL Players Be Puppets?

10/19/2007 at 7:40pm EDT

Yesterday, Lucas Aykroyd at Hockey wrote an interesting piece about Alexei Kovalev and the matter of speaking one’s mind in the NHL.

It seems like there’s a reactive intolerance that happens whenever hockey players express an opinion, and the situation with the Montreal Canadien is a good example.

I’ll borrow Aykroyd’s words to explain what happened, for anyone who may not have caught the controversy:

On Tuesday night, after the Canadiens lost 2-1 to Florida in a shootout, Alexei Kovalev freely expressed his opinion. The veteran Russian winger told reporters his team should have called a timeout before a Panthers power play that led to Nathan Horton scoring the tying goal with an extra attacker and 11 seconds left.

Kovalev’s comments were seen as second-guessing head coach Guy Carbonneau, who retorted the next day: “Alex is entitled to his opinion, but I wish he had kept it in the room. If he had something to say, he should have come to me.”

The mini-controversy was good fodder for Montreal journalists, who can make a seven-course banquet out of a side of poutine.

Isn’t that the truth. In short, when a hockey player expresses a personal opinion that offends anybody at all, there’s an attitude that it should be kept behind closed doors; that he’s undermining the team somehow.

Seems like nonsense to me, and apparently to Aykroyd as well, who examines what Kovalev actually said:

But really, what was so awful about what Kovalev said? He didn’t say, “Carbonneau is incompetent.” (Bonus points for those who remember Henri Richard slapping that term on Al MacNeil after Game Five of the 1971 Stanley Cup finals.) Nor did he say Carbonneau should be fired.

His exact words were, “It was just my idea that we could have taken a timeout, get organized, and get the right people on the ice. Maybe it could have been better.” How many more “maybes” and “my ideas” did Kovalev need to include?

What Kovalev expressed was a perfectly reasonable personal opinion. What the fans deserve is all the analysis, opinions and critiques of their team that they can get.

Agree or disagree with Kovalev, why is he not entitled to express that opinion? If you ask me, everyone wins; the organization and the fans. But it sometimes seems like the atmosphere of the NHL is driven to make its greatest asset—it’s own players—all as boring as possible.

These are “nice guys,” we’re often told. And they are. But typical nice-guy-comments and quotes tend to consist of things like “we needed to play a full 60 minutes.” Yawn…

I’d much rather have heard Kovalev’s words—who knows far more about the game of hockey and what actually happened on the ice in that particular situation than I will ever know—sharing what he honestly thinks.

It’s real, for godsakes, not canned clichés.

And I’m pretty sure the egos of the coaching staff and other players are able to handle it… or they’ve got far more serious problems than Kovalev’s mouth.

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