The Hockey News: Headlines: Kovalchuk returns to Devils' lineup vs. Rangers after 1-game benching by MacLean
Kovalchuk said [...] the reason behind it would stay between him and the coach. "I'm just a player and I'm just going to show up tonight and play," Kovalchuk said. [...] "The issue is over with," MacLean said. "It's an internal matter. We both know, and today we're getting ready for the Rangers game. "He'll be playing and hopefully playing a lot and burying some of the great opportunities he's been getting. He'll be put in a role to be used to the best of his ability."
I find both of these quotes (the parts in bold) to be telling. Now, maybe this is too much "reading the tea leaves," but frankly you invite that when you sign a guy for $100MM and then make him a healthy scratch in the first two weeks of the season, and then proceed to explain yourself entirely using cryptic phrases from the parent-of-delinquent-teen handbook (e.g. "He knows what he did."). The tea leaves are all we have.
Kovalchuk: I'm just a player and I'm just going to show up tonight and play.
Let's parse that. "Just a player," as opposed to what exactly? Something more than a player. A superstar player, or a player who thinks he's bigger than either (a) other players, or (b) management. And you don't bother saying you're "just a player" except in response to someone thinking (or thinking you think) you're more than that.
"...and I'm just going to show up tonight and play." But what else would one do, as a player, besides show up and play? That's all a player does. Unless that player is stepping on the toes of management.
I think if he were just late for a meeting, he would say something that emphasizes "I am a member of this team, no bigger than any other player." But I don't think this is about Kovy vs. the other players. I think this is about Kovy vs. management. Thus, I'm going to show up and play and not try to tell the coach how to do his job.
MacLean: He'll be put in a role to be used to the best of his ability.
I'm assuming no-one asked what role Kovalchuk would be playing, but whether or not he would be playing at all. The fact that MacLean feels the need to emphasize that Kovalchuk will get to be Kovalchuk tells me that this whole dust-up is about Kovalchuk not getting to be Kovalchuk, about MacLean trying to get Kovalchuk to not be Kovalchuk (i.e. cross his defensive zone blue line), about the Devils winning and MacLean wanting one kind of team and Kovalchuk wanting another. Otherwise, why are we talking about his role?
He's in the role of scoring 50 goals. That's his role. If his role is an issue, if it's something worth bringing up, what does that say?
It says they had an argument about his role. Either about his role specifically ("how can I do what I do when you want me to do what I don't do?") or about the kind of team this is. But it was, one way or another, about whether Kovalchuk gets to do whatever he wants. And the answer? No, you don't (scratched), followed by yes, you do (it's all worked out, everything's fine, nothing to see here, move along).
So, to sum up:
- there appears to be a divide between Lamoriello and ownership regarding (in the first place) the acquiring of Kovalchuk.
- there appears to be a divide between Kovalchuk and the coach on the topic of the player's role on the team, or else the identity of the team itself.
- both of these power struggles relate to the same issue: who is running this team?
I was listening to sports radio yesterday and the sports voices were talking about the fact that, in his post-loss comments, the Vikings coach apparently threw Brett Favre under the bus. The consensus among the voices was that this was not a smart move on the coach's part, since (to quote from memory) the coach had "driven to the airport to pick up Favre twice." In other words, the team wanted Favre, they got went after him, they got him, now they are obligated to let him do what he does. So this put me in mind of Kovalchuk right away. And I was thinking about that when one of the football dudes said, and now the team has to think about Favre vs. the coach all week, whether they say that's what they're doing or not, that's the story of the week (or longer). It consumes the locker room.
Exactly. The Devils are off to their worst start in franchise history. Maybe they're still not as bad as 1983, not sure. How can a team with Kovalchuk, Parise, Langenbrunner, Elias and Brodeur be as good as a bottom-feeder populated by nobodies?