Once upon a time, a wish went up to the heavens. It was during the height of the conspiracy theories running rampant through the Red Wings, Canucks, and Blackhawks fan bases. How much the league was against them, how much the NHL hates them, and how the referees were all trained to make calls against them. This wish was repeated when Ilya Kovalchuk took over the headlines for the length of the summer.
The wish? Please, oh lucky star so bright and shiny, make the Wild just a bit more interesting to write about.
Rather than a wishing star, the wish was granted by the one and only Michael Russo. Make the jump for one man's take on what is sure to be the story of the day.
In his article for the paper, Russo details out a drama fire built, stoked, and boiled over all in the course of one day. You have all likely already read the article. You know, in the newspaper you have delivered to your home or that you picked up at the gas station on the way to work. Right?
Turns out, Martin Havlat's agent, none other than Allan Walsh himself, went after the Wild for underusing his client.
From the article:
"When Chuck reached out to Marty Havlat two summers ago after he led Chicago to the conference finals while leading the team in points in the regular season and playoffs, he shared a vision of building an up-tempo offensive team with Marty as a pillar to this strategy," Walsh said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. "That's why he signed with the Wild.
"Since that time, Marty has been used in a purely secondary role. Look at this season, he's played four straight games at about 14 minutes of ice time, he's used on the second power-play unit, he sits for long stretches, he's not used in the shootouts. At a certain point in time, one has to ask, 'Why is he here?' One has to ask, 'Why pay this guy $30 million to not play?'
"It's like we are in a time warp and the coach has totally ignored or chooses to ignore what Marty has done offensively over the course of his entire career. People say the Wild don't have a star player. The Wild have a dynamic offensive player right under their nose and yet choose not to use him to their advantage. Look around the league, what other team has a player like Marty Havlat wilting on the vine like this?"
I'm going to give you all a minute to let that all soak in. The agent is asking why they are willing to pay him $30 million to not play. The agent. The guy who gets his percentage no matter what happens on the ice. Sure, his job is to protect the interests of his client, but the money argument coming from the agent comes in on the list shy of only Dan Ellis.
I don't know Mr. Walsh. I've never had the pleasure of meeting him. However, judging from the public persona he puts out via Twitter and other avenues, he seems like a class 1 drama queen. As Russo mentions in his article, and as you all hopefully remember, Walsh went after Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price last season. All this, in the relentless pursuit of building up his own client, Jaroslav Halak.
Walsh then lit up the Wild in the media, and especially on Twitter about the "mishandling" of Petr Sykora. As you all remember, Sykora did not perform well while with the Wild, was benched, and after receiving his release, it turns out he had an undisclosed injury that was very likely hampering his performance, and he has yet to find another job in a paying hockey league.
All of this is all well and good, and it makes for a great read, and great Twitter follow. However, what it doesn't do much for is the truth. Carey Price is a head case, we get it. He plays in Montreal, and he folds under pressure. Not a tough lock to pick there. But why throw that last punch? Sykora was injured, and was stinking up the joint. The coach benched him due to performance, not because of anything personal.
Read the first sentence in the quote again. He spends eighteen words reminding us of what Havlat did two seasons ago. We get it. He had a good year. He got his pay day because of it, too. Why continue to bring it up?
Last season was a stink pot, and we here at Hockey Wilderness have defended Havlat on multiple occassions. We blamed everything except Havlat. Lack of a finisher, lack of a legit #2 center, lack of chemistry with Mikko Koivu, a non-cohesive group trying to figure out a new coach, a new system, and new teammates. Never once did we buy into the fact that it was all on Havlat's shoulders. His $5 million a year made him a target, and we rarely took aim. In fact, we still don't.
We all see Havlat as a play maker, not the finisher. We all jumped up and down when Guillaume Latendresse was moved down off of Havlat's line, figuring the finisher was gone, who was going to shoot the puck? The six assists through eight games works. At least for this humble writer. Havlat has played well on the power play, and has clicked with Matt Cullen. Lats is finally back on the line, and Russo has reported that Pierre-Marc Bouchard could head to that line as soon as he returns.
What more could this guy want?
Chuck Fletcher lays out the basis for a strong argument in Russo's article, and he is absolutely correct. Unless Havlat is going to start playing on the penalty kill, there is not much more Havlat can do for this team. The chemistry was not there with Koivu, and it is there with Cullen. Why switch that up?
The stats on NHL.com don't lie.
- 16:53 average time on ice (Ninth on the team, fourth among forwards)
- 20.5 shifts per game (Fifth among forwards)
- average shift length is 49 seconds (#1)
- 14:16 Even Strength TOI /G (1st among forwards)
- 2:31 PP TOI / G (Fifth among forwards)
Havlat's time on ice lags behind Koivu, Cullen, and Antti Miettinen. They make up the majority of the top two lines of what? The the penalty kill. His shifts per game fall behind Koivu, Cullen, Miettinen, John Madden, and Cal Clutterbuck. What do these forwards have in common? Wait for it... the penalty kill. Madden has 32:51 of SH TOI, Koivu 21:07, Cullen, 19:41, Clutterbuck 18:18, and Miettinen 11:54. Martin Havlat? 50 seconds. 50. Converted, Madden has 1971 seconds of short handed time. Havlat has 50.
This is not to say that Havlat is somehow under performing. His role is not on the PK. The point of all of these numbers is to point out that Havlat is leaned on in even strength and power play situations, which is exactly why the Wild spent $5 million a year to retain his services.
Look, I'm as entertained by the occasional Twitter outburst as the next sarcastic jerk, and I love a good media based tongue lashing to liven things up a bit. Hell, I'll even stop to read a rant from a coach calling out his players in the media. I also appreciate an agent's full-throated defense and promotion of his client.
As anyone who is a regular around here knows, I'm a sucker for when someone opens their mouth and firmly implants their foot. The stats, and the facts, simply do not back up what Walsh is saying this time. This isn't Price vs Halak, this Walsh vs the truth. Havlat is doing his job, and he is performing fairly well for a team that is not playing all that great right now.
However, the fury needs to not be on the coach or the GM for "underusing" Havlat. Maybe the fury needs to be directed at Havlat's teammates for not keeping the penalty box door from hitting them in the butt on their way out.
That won't happen though. After all. Those players are his potential clients.