Most players got the script and followed it. Josh Gorges bravely answered questions and defended all his teammates by way of backing Scott Gomez. Erik Cole was appropriately glum, describing how he didn't expect to lose so much when he signed his contract last summer. Various players disclosed nagging injuries, and some announced whether they would be heading to the World Championships.
So in this relatively innocuous setting, Andrei Markov managed to provide enough grist for the mill to last us until next fall's harvest. He was asked to comment on P.K. Subban's development over the season, to which he snapped: "Next question." The journalist, more surprised than insistent, probed: "You don't want to comment?" His succinct reply was delivered with a rictus that said more than his "No."
My first reaction to this new tempest in a teacup is to wonder why this question was asked at all. It kind of made sense last season to ask Hal Gill about P.K. since they were on the same pairing and he played a widely-touted mentorship role. It would also be appropriate if P.K. had had a stellar season and was in line for a Norris Trophy or some other honour, or even if at the other end of the spectrum, he had had a disastrous season which endangered his status with the team, à la Scott Gomez. It would make sense for the members of the Two and a Half Men line to comment on each other's season. It is understandable that the Calgary Flames were all asked about a potential future without Jarome Iginla, since that is a question central to the identity of that team, and no one shirked their duty to respond and add their contribution to the Iggy legend.
Andrei reacted completely differently. He according to the analysts on RDS allowed his frustration with the public's fascination and beguilement with the callow defenceman to get the better of him, and couldn't voice the rehearsed platitudes that every NHL'er is familiar with. (As an aside, it's noteworthy that there are other unnamed players who reacted in the same way to the same question, with one stating that P.K. does pretty much what he wants both on and off the ice) Andrei's response was expected to be that P.K. had come a long way and still had lots of room to improve and was promised to a bright future, but he couldn't spit the lines out.
Which according to François Gagnon of La Presse and RDS, says more about Andrei than P.K. Mr. Markov is a magician and leader on the ice, but a difficult person off it and somewhat lacking in leadership in the dressing room. He is famously prickly with the media. He has been coddled and insulated from the media his whole career, based on his lack of ability to communicate in English when he first came to North America. He has been allowed to coast on this dispensation his whole career, and was taken to task by the panel on l'Antichambre for it.
Michel Bergeron was irked when pointing out that Andrei has been drawing a full salary for two seasons which he largely spent on the injured list, and that the least the fans who pay his salary can expect is a proper response to questions asked by the press. He referred to the quip Andrei had after his first game against Vancouver, when he was asked about his surgically-reconstructed knee and replied: "It's still there." While this is acceptable if delivered truly as a joke, Mr. Bergeron suspects that it's more of a reflection of Mr. Markov's attitude that dealing with the media is a barely tolerable annoyance. As Michel Bergeron put it, when he and his players had to face the media at the end of a season, he would steel himself by preparing as he would for a visit to the dentist, and would internally repeat his mantra: "Ça va prendre dix minutes.... It will take ten minutes..." Apparently this is more than Mr. Markov can achieve.
More than anything, what this episode shows is the lack of leadership and direction on the team, one that is fraying at the edges after a long season of losing. The Antichambre panel, which also included Mario Tremblay and Michel Thérrien, explained that there were no coaches available to monitor the proceedings, which led to a last day of class with no teacher in the classroom atmosphere. They conjectured that team captain Brian Gionta got everyone to attend and face the music, but in this environment of flux team cohesion took a hit. They went on to say that with Mr. Gionta injured and Hal Gill traded, there was little veteran presence on the team. Scott Gomez has been neutered by his own impotence. Mathieu Darche can be a good lieutenant but is not able to play a frontline role on the ice and in the dressing room. Tomas Plekanec doesn't have the personality for it. Which leaves Erik Cole, who is a first year player, and Josh Gorges, who is on the cusp of being a veteran, and is also a role player. They concluded that the next GM will have a lot of work to do over the summer.
I was glad to hear them agree that a lot of this stuff is what happens when a team is losing, and that winning cures a lot of these ills. I know that getting beaten regularly makes the game less fun, makes the group going for a beer after games smaller, and the mood more subdued. When your flakey goalie lets in a couple of beach balls or your stubborn fly half insists on kicking the ball away in every situation instead of circulating it, it grates on you and wears you down and leads to you snapping at each other over little things. When the team is playing well and winning, you forgive your teammates their little foibles and ruefully admit their strengths and value their contributions instead of focusing on their failings.
Earlier in the season, Carey Price was asked about P.K. in a different setting, and he jokingly said that P.K. is a giant idiot who does entirely too much talking on his own already, and that there was therefore no need to say anything about him or add to the discussion. This was delivered with a wry smile, so most took it as a good joke with the merest sprinkle of truth, but it is now easy to see that Carey was trying to send a gentle message and hoping that it would sink in. And we get a sense that it does, and then a day later it hasn't quite done so yet and the message must be delivered again. It brings to mind the famous Magic Johnson quote about Vlade Divac, that: "He's a quick learner, but he forgets quick too."
P.K. is still young and has shown a lot of improvement over this season. For a while, he seemed uncontrollable, but Randy Ladouceur's iron glove approach seemed to take effect when the necessarily more subdued approach of Hal Gill had gone as far as it could. We discussed last season how veterans can only influence rookies so far, since they're still teammates and need to get along. At one point, a coach has to step in and establish boundaries and expectations, and discipline players who fall astray of these. We applauded Mr. Ladouceur's presence behind the bench and his constant communication with his charges, that was what we had been clamouring for, instead of Perry Pearn's and Jacques Martin's phlegmatic laissez-faire approach. Michel Bergeron often says that a coach's job is to say something and then repeat it and repeat it, to constantly remind his players. This approach will benefit P.K. and the other young defencemen in the long run.
We can understand that P.K. is still a work in progress, and for all his promise is still a diamond in the rough and needs a lot of polishing. We should not be surprised at this, since it was the scouting report on him coming out of junior, that he had first-round talent but big question marks when it came to coachability and attitude. Let's hope that the next coaching team finds the right formula to allow him to deliver on his physical tools and potential.