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Monday, August 3, 2009

Sergei Kostitsyn: Superstar or Superbrat?

Well, we are truly into the dog days of summer, from a hockey persepctive. Apart from the continual cumour mongering there really isn't a lot to talk about in the hockey world. That being said, I think that the new-look Habs have a bunch of interesting storlines that will playout this season, most of which will begin at training camp. Notwithstanding any changes that Gainey makes between now and the beginning of the season, the big question mark in my mind is where does Sergei Kostitsyn fit on this team? The third line? The fourth line? The minors? Traded to another team?

Let's take a look...

Looking at the Habs roster as it currently stands, the forward lines look a little something like this:

Cammalleri - Gomez - Gionta
Andrei Kostitsyn - Plekanec - Latendresse/D'Agostini
Moen - Lapierre - Max Pacorietty (wow, this would be an amazingly tough line!)
Stewart/Sergei Kostitsyn - Metropolit/Chipchura/Ben Maxwell - Laraque

Again, there are no guarantees of the line combinations, but these are what I think could be reasonable approximations of what this team will look like. My problem with this setup is that Sergei Kostitsyn doesn't seem to fit anywhere except for the fourth line, and even that is a bit of a stretch given that he is not a fourth line player. In all honesty, Sergei is more of a top 6 at best and top 9 at worst, player. Anything less than that is a bit of a waste of the player's talents/potential.

So where does he fit in this line-up or does he fit at all? I think a lot of that depends on Sergei himself, and the attitude he brings to training camp.

When Sergei broke out in Montreal, in the 2007/2008 season, he was somewhat of a god-sent. Not only did his presence stir his older brother - Andrei has 45 points in 57 games after Sergei joined the team - but he also brought spunk, grit, incredible on-ice vision and an outstanding ability to agitate the opposition. That was, I believe, a natural extension of his on-ice personality and the effects of playing under the tutelage of Dale Hunter, in junior. Sergei was a very skilled pest. An agitator who, despite his 5-11 185lbs stature, would fight anyone, anytime...and he did!

I remember watching Sergei, during his first season, and thinking that he played a lot like Koivu, but with even more jam. I thought he was going to be a great addition to the team by adding a lot of energy and vigor and, at first, he was. In his first playoffs, Sergei was one of the best and most productive players on the team, finishing near the top of the Habs leader board in the company of Kovalev and Koivu.

His star was rising.

Coming out of the gates in training camp and the beginning of the 2008/2009 season, Sergei looked like he was picking up where he left off from the previous year, with 5 points in his first 7 games. He looked like he was in cruise control and maybe going to become a difference maker on this team. Everything seemed on track until his brother got concussed by a Kurt Sauer (Phoenix Coyotes) hit early in the season. I feel that that hit was the catalyst in derailing Sergei's season - and Andrei's too for that matter. Andrei was never the same, for the rest of the season, playing cautionsly and mostly avoiding the corners and high traffic areas, while Sergei seemed to fall into a funk that lasted the rest of the season.

Sergei seemed distracted and, at times, uninterested, like he had something better to do. There started to be murmurs from Carbonneau that Sergei was walking around with a sense of entitlement, acting like he was a 10 year veteran in the league. Even in his play, I started to feel that he had attitude and thought an awful lot of himself. It was almost like his off-ice life/persona was bigger and more important to him than anything he did on the ice.

I think that most people know - and for those of you who do not, I will tell you - that hockey players in Montreal are treated like gods! I have been out in town on many a night and seen the likes of Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, Janne Niinnimaa (remember him??), Michael Ryder and yes, the Kostitsyn brothers, partying it up and surrounded by girls. Keep him mind that these are all young guys playing hockey for a living, making millions of dollars at a REALLY young age, AND being idolized by everyone in the city. I think that it takes a strong person to keep that all from going to your head. Hey, I remember being a 20 year old party-animal, myself, and I was just a regular guy. I can only imagine the trouble I would have gotten into if I had millions of dollars too! But I digress...

All this to say that while I understand how the Kostitsyn brothers could have fallen in with a 'bad crowd', they still have to accept responsibilty for their actions, and they still have to respect the crest. When I read, on rds.ca (http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/279012.html - French only...sorry), that Sergei Kostitsyn said, in a Belarussion newspaper, that he feels the only reason he was sent down to Hamilton, last year, was because of the mobster scandal, it makes me think that perhaps he has not yet learned his lesson. That maybe he doesn't realize that it was widely accepted that he had become a floater who had a serious attitude problem. If he doesn't see that, then I believe that he might be in for a rude awakening at training camp this year!

Last year was a step backwards in Sergei's development, but to be fair, it was a major step back for most of the young players on the team. To a man, Komisarek, Higgins, Plekanec, Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn, as well as, Ryan O'Byrne, all regressed last year. The only young players who made any progress were Pacioretty and D'Agostini. The bottom line is that Sergei was not alone, but his seeming lack of work ethic and bad attitude seemed to have caused problems in the dressing room too.

Drafted in the 7th round, 200th overall in 2005, Sergei has already provided much more than his draft positioning would indicate should be expected. That being said, he did have 131 points (40 - 91) and was +38 in 59 games during his last year in junior. Yes, he was playing with Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane, but with 91 assists Sergei was the undeniable playmaker on that line. It is generally accepted that he has an exceptional on-ice vision and is great at getting the puck to the scoring areas. All that he is lacking, in my opinion, is a better attitude and to get back to his hard working, energetic, grinding style of play.

If Sergei can pull a 180 with his attitude, I believe that he can become an integral part of this team for years to come. If not, I think the likes of Max Pacorietty and Matt D'Agostini, among others, might push Sergei down the depth chart and possibly force Gainey to trade him. Which brings up a whole other question of whether you can trade one Kostitsyn and keep the other, or if they have to go as a packaged deal. But that's another story.

Come on Sergei!!! Bring it!!!

K.

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