We haven't seen the Canadiens play a game since Tuesday, and things seem to be rolling smoothly, so maybe as a Team-Fan-Hype-Machine we needed a controversy, and the Beaulieu-Bournival-Bulldog-Beef doesn't seem to have legs, so we need to manufacture one.
On Thursday, a reporter asked Andrei Markov "What can you tell us about your partner, and how the chemistry is evolving with him?"
Cue the long, awkward pause. He hemmed, he hawed, he grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck. To some it seemed like quite the tell, as if he was looking at his deuce of clubs and his eight of diamonds, and wondered how he was going to bluff his way out of that. He sighed dramatically, and looked at the reporter expressively, conveying a sense of "What do you want me to say?" back.
The reporter prompted him with a "It's a process...", as the throng chuckled nervously, and Andrei didn't quite take the proffered lifeline, mumbled about "getting to know each other", and finished with "I don't know what else to say" and shrugged.
It caused a minor sensation, as some took this as a definite vote-of-withheld-confidence in Tom Gilbert, his current regular partner.
Of course, this isn't the first time that Andrei's mediaphobic personality stirs things up. We all remember his "Next question!" when presented with a P.K. Subban creampuff question at the end of the 2012 season.
Gaston Therrien of RDS tried to downplay the affair, calling it ironically ‘du grand Markov’. He says we shouldn't worry about it, Andrei is here to play, not talk about playing. He also slipped in that Tom Gilbert was the first on the ice for the morning practice, and maybe was so because he got the message.
André Savard went further, agreeing that his play is the important consideration, but that he withholds answers even though he definitely has them. About Tom Gilbert, Mr. Savard says that he saw him play lots last season in Florida, and his play is even better now than then, and doesn't know if it's related to the "structure" of the team, or directly because of being paired with Andrei.
In the same segment, Gaston Therrien stated that Tom Gilbert is an offensive player paired with another offensive player, and they need to work on their assignments, figure out who stays back to mind the store.
I wondered how much the language barrier may have played a role in the current tempest in our teapot. The question was asked by a French-Canadian reporter to a Russian player, both operating in a second language, with an accent getting in the way of a halting query.
When interviewing people, a good rule of thumb to follow is not to ask leading questions of your subject. For example, don’t ask: “Tell me about how great you felt after the wonderful ovation you received before the game”, but rather “How did you react to the reception from the fans before the game?” Let the player choose to use words like ‘great’ and ‘wonderful’.
Dealing with a player like Andrei Markov, however, and especially for a Montréal journalist who should know better, that rule should be bent appreciably. Instead of saying “Tell me about how the chemistry is developing between you and your new partner”, ask “You and Tom Gilbert have been playing well together. Are you getting to know each other better, and playing better together?” Give Andrei a chance to say yes, give a rote pat on the back for his partner even if apparently he’s not fully convinced, and move on to something else.
John Tortorella was incensed when a reporter would say “Tell me about (your powerplay, your fourth line, your upcoming opponents,…)” He would snap at them and tell them “Ask me a question!” Evidently, he didn’t enjoy being asked to entertain the reporters, having to perform for them, like a bear riding a bicycle. If he got a question, and everyone’s cellphone was turned to silent, he’d gruffly answer, but he wouldn’t ‘talk about’ stuff.
Maybe that’s a good way to go for reporters dealing with Andrei.
In any case, Tom Gilbert took it in stride, laughing it off and agreeing that Andrei is a man of few words but gets his message across. He seems to have the California surfer cool dude vibe, who lets things roll off his back, which will serve him well in Montréal.