Реклама в Интернет * Все Кулички
|27 октября 2006
Samsonov is drawing the line in Montreal // Boston Globe
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Sergei Samsonov is not out of Montreal. At least not yet. But last night, with his Canadiens on Causeway to face his former Bruins, the Magical Muscovite was a fourth-liner in the bleu-blanc-rouge scheme of things.
Sergei Samsonov, fourth-liner.
Sounds sort of odd, doesn't it?
"Hey, they've pulled the plug on him," said Samsonov's longtime representative, Neil Abbott, who is a charter member of the Let's-Be-Blunt Club. "I'm not happy. Sammy's not happy. That said, he'll show and play and do what he's told. But he wants to play and be a go-to guy. And what sense does it make to be paying a guy $3.5 million a year -- the third-highest salary on the team -- if he's going to be just a role player? Makes no sense."
The 28-year-old Samsonov (his birthday is today), a fan favorite in the Hub of Hockey since his arrival in the fall of 1997, said much the same as Abbott to the Montreal media earlier in the week. Coach Guy Carbonneau dropped him to the fourth line in the late stages of Monday night's 4-1 loss to the Sabres, after which Samsonov told beat writers, "If that's the case, then obviously I'm not needed here."
Following yesterday's morning skate, Samsonov was reluctant to rehash the matter, but said he did not regret saying anything in the wake of his perceived demotion. As he chatted, winger Alexei Kovalev, his former running mate on what was the Habs' No. 2 line with Tomas Plekanec, attempted to get a laugh out of his buddy. Samsonov was duly amused, but it was easy to tell he was not a happy fourth-line camper.
"Ultimately, I thought I could play an important role on the team," said Samsonov, his face more rawboned than when he left here in March, swapped to the Oilers in one of then-general manager Mike O'Connell's last futile acts as Boston's boss. "Right now, [the fourth line] is not where I want to be."
Abbott fell short of saying he has asked Montreal management to find his client a new home -- new home as in different city rather than different line. However, it took very little reading between the lines to figure out that Samsonov would prefer to be dealt.
"Bob Gainey's heard our thoughts on this," said Abbott, referring to the Canadiens' general manager. "He has in writing what our thoughts and concerns are." Twice during a conversation outside the Canadiens' dressing room, Abbott said, "I hear there is a lot of trade talk around the league right now."
Note to reader: If you need an abacus to do the math, you too have concerns.
Carbonneau, who made a career in Montreal as one of the game's premier defensive forwards, tried to downplay Samsonov's placement on the depth chart. The rookie coach does not want to chop up his No. 1 line, which has Saku Koivu pivoting Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder, and he is searching for another three-man combination that can deliver consistent, meaningful offense. By his eye, the Samsonov-Kovalev-Plekanec troika wasn't delivering the goods.
Specifically, said Carbonneau, he hasn't seen Samsonov utilize his speed. Too often, he said, Samsonov has opted for inside passage to the net, rather than try to burn defensemen with speed to the outside. The coach isn't buying the shortest-distance-between-two-points approach.
"To be honest, I don't think he's playing as good as he can," said Carbonneau. "And just because he's on the fourth line, that doesn't mean he is not going to play. I am not stupid enough to bring him to Boston and not play him at all."
In eight games prior to last night, averaging a little more than 14 minutes per game, Samsonov had only 2 goals and 4 points. He played 13:40 last night, with two shots on goal. In his 43 games with the Oilers, including a run to the Cup finals, he picked up nine goals and 31 points. Did he lose his touch somewhere between Alberta and Quebec? Of course not.
Somewhere, and probably in Montreal, there is a fit for Samsonov. The Bruins often said the same thing in his days here. He is highly skilled. His work ethic matches his skill level. Until this week, he has never publicly raised an objection to how he has been used in a lineup. Then again, neither the Bruins nor Oilers dressed him as Sergei Samsonov, fourth-liner.
Carbonneau and Gainey believed in Samsonov when they signed him to a two-year, $7 million free agent deal July 12. Only three weeks into the season, they have slipped a reminder note into his paycheck, underscoring how they want him to play, and in turn, he will have to respond. Last night, Carbonneau had Samsonov riding with Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson.
Carbonneau, 46 years old, is new on the bench beat, but he has torn a page from the playbooks of legendary Habs coaches Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman. They were masters when it came to cutting back playing time, or inflicting the indignities of in-game benchings or demotions, with the hope that appealing to a player's pride would get him going. Sometimes that backfires, as we saw here when then-coach Steve Kasper kept Cam Neely on the bench for a full game one night in Toronto.
"He chose to go there," said Abbott, dwelling on the plight of his client, who was named the NHL's Rookie of the Year in 1998, back when his life was far less complicated in the Hub of Hockey. "He bought a house, brought his wife and kids there, jumped right in -- nothing lukewarm about it. Now, eight games in, they pull the plug?"
The Canadiens have 73 games remaining on their 2006-07 schedule. How many more of those will include Samsonov? Anyone's guess. But the longer he remains a fourth-liner, or even a third-liner, the shorter his stay becomes.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com