When recently called-up forward Mikhail Grabovski got his shorts in a knot about not playing and ran into the arms of his agent, it possibly marked the beginning of the end for the young Belarus centreman as far as becoming a real player for the Montreal Canadiens. After his hissy-fit, coach Carbonneau did absolutely the right thing by not dressing him for the LA game.
But surprisingly enough, at the time at least, the young guy played the next night in Anaheim. And as it happens, he set up Alex Kovalev for a really nice goal, and also lost nine of ten faceoff draws. But it turns out he only played because Tomas Plekanec had the flu.
And next year, he could see lots of ice time in the Russian Super League.
You see, here’s the thing about this Russian league. I’ve been to a handfull of games in Russia since 1991, and back then, players’ yearly salaries there amounted to what Ryan O’Byrne and the other rookies left as a tip in Tampa Bay. It was mostly bus rides, not planes, silly old Soviet hotels, and not much in the way of adulation from fans. And not only that, when the games ended, players from both teams hung around centre ice and shot the shit, which I found really bizarre.
But it’s different now by a country mile. And not just hockey, but Russia in general. Gone are lineups into little food shops for some cheese and a loaf of bread. Now it’s modern malls with food courts, and fast food, fast cars, and fat cats abound. Someone who’d been away from Russia since 1991 and just came back wouldn’t recognize it.
And so it’s filtered down into hockey. Players now in the Russian League who were making $200 a week not that long ago, are now signing million dollar contracts. Where once they were living in old and decrepid Soviet housing, they now have swanky condo’s.
So for guys like Grabovski and other young players from Eastern Europe, playing near home, knowing the language, eating food they grew up with, is a wonderful alternative to the NHL.
Don’t be surprised to see the number of Russian players and those of nearby countries slowly dwindle from the NHL as life in the old country continues to improve.
Maybe it’s best for Mikhail Grabovski. Although he’s small, he’s got lots of raw talent, but to play in the NHL, your head has to be screwed on properly. Not being happy about not playing is one thing, and is actually appreciated by coaches and teammates. It shows you need to play, to help the team. It sucks not to play.
But when you bolt the team and run to your agent, it’s different.
It also really bugs me about the “agent-father-figure” thing. Am I wrong to believe that these agents are there for the money, the healthy cut of the player’s salary, not because they’re doing it out of the goodness of their heart?