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Mending Appreciation For Koivu

Robert L Note: Apologies for a week long delay in posting this piece. Blame a computer system crash. I had to resort to the old pen and paper method to finish this one up while repairing things on here. I've noticed that since this bit of news broke just about everyone in the hockey bloggosphere has had their say. Stubbs, Deneault, Topham, Kane and Spector have all weighed in on this subject, and I was tempted for a day to just to let this one be, since it looked as though the matter was quite well covered. Apart from Mr. Stubbs, I have not yet read about how the others feel about Koivu skipping the links game. As a habit, I rarely read other friends postings until after I have completed my own take on it, so as to not let the thoughts of others infiltrate my own. I will be reading them now that this is posted.

It is hardly Saku Koivu's fault or err.

But it might just be a European captain thing. Some will suggest so much horse hockey.

Only because it is hard to hop in a car and drive 45 minutes from Finland to a Montreal area golf course.

In this case, going the extra mile means crossing a sea by sky.

What I am speaking of, is the latest chapter of the Koivu Kerfuffles, in which our very valued but uselessly maligned team captain creates yet again another stir of controversy - not by an act - but by not doing anything at all.

Only in Montreal!

Last weekend, after Koivu passed on attending the Canadiens annual pre-season golf tournament, several factions of the french media took issue with the captain's absence - call them the usual suspects when it comes to magnifying Koivu's un - Beliveau-ness!

Only in Montreal, does a mere mortal have to measure up to a hockey God to pass the valid captaincy test.

It is all a little bit too much. There was no need for a firestorm, just as there was no need for one last season when Koivu qualified the team he leads and knows well as not being Cup contenders, or when he failed to utter a word of french in introducing his team mates on the occasion of the home opener.

Only in the province of Quebec can a tempest be brewed in a thimble!

The root of this evil, is not Koivu's doing, but actually an irregular scheduling snafu, in which the NHL moved the openings of training camps league wide, to a later date. A larger gap of time was created between the team's annual 18 holes and the camp's first weigh in.

On top of it all, and because players receive no paychecks in August, attendance at the event was optional.

It seems as though the word "optional" applies to everyone but the team captain.

But here, my friends, is where I will go against the grain of popular opinion some.

I think Koivu could have spared the effort to be there.

On the flipside, I think nothing less of him for not showing. It really shouldn't have been made into a big deal.

Huh, you say!

I'll explain.

The official reason given for Saku's absense, from club publicist Donald Beauchamp, was that he did not want to interrupt his pre - training camp regimen.

Hey, I'll buy that spin all the way, because in all likelyhood it is 99% truth.

But as a fan, and by extension - a journalist - it would have been nice now that the team is a valid Cup contender, and in it's 100th season, that our captain be present on what is in essense the very first team and media event / function of the upcoming season.

Really, how much would it have harmed Koivu's training had he taken three days off from it, to attend a team function - optional or not.

Perhaps the media might be best to aim it's dart at the club for not making it a little more imperative that Koivu be there. George Gillett's private jet could easily have wisked the captain back and forth without much disruption to his regimen had it been planned out properly in advance.

Note that Gillett was away on business on the day of the event, which would have nullified that plan regardless.

When a respected journalist such as Bertrand Raymond brings up matters in which the captain comes up short, I believe there is some merit in his plea.

I don't intend this to be a knock on Saku by any means. Koivu has done more than enough for the Canadiens and the city. There is little need to document what he has given and gone through over his career. He is by far the most persevering player in Canadiens history, in my opinion.

Nonetheless, I believe a captain should try to attend team functions, as a rule, even in the off season. Gainey was there, and so were coach Carbonneau and president Pierre Boivin. Had any of those three not shown, heads would have been scratched in equal amounts, and perhaps similar questions would have been raised.

The dust stirred by Koivu's absense is particularly a Montreal only scenario, where a captain is revered to unreasonable heights at times. Where the stupidity crosses the line into idiocy is when Koivu's leadership, committment, and dedication are questioned.

All of that can only be measured once the puck is dropped.

The trouble is, that in Montreal, where there is media to analyze media, every gesture is deemed spotlight worthy. It is not like Koivu does not know the Montreal media routine - or the pitfalls - of skipping team activities. Shoot, in this city, skipping an optional practice during a personal slump is front page news!

While that notion is hardly Koivu's fault, he knows better with each passing season, what to expect. Simply attending the meet and greet, would have spoken volumes, not only to those questioning his committment, but also about his perception of the city he plays in.

The curious thing about playing in Montreal is that sometimes a player of Koivu's worth must bend and cater to the demands of the public. It only helps a player's perception when he is made available for things as trivial as charity golf tournaments.

My guess is that Saku would have to spend his summers here to grasp exactly how hockey crazy the city truly is. Of course, that is an unreasonable thing to even ask. Honestly, who can begrudge him staying home when the weather speaks family time.

From a common man's point of view, if anyone was willing to pay any of us fans in excess of four millions dollars a season to play a game such as hockey, we would all be more than willing to mop the dressing room floor after games, never mind going that extra length to appear in off - season golf charities.

To extend that ideal - if I were in captain Koivu's skates or shoes - I am on those links - if only to powow with potentail new line mate Alex Tanguay and bring Georges Laraque around to say hello and offer a solid squeeze of hands in welcoming him to the team first chance I get.

I guess you just can't ask someone not raised in the hockey mad Montreal culture to behave as though they had. It is easy for us fans to put ourselves in his shoes, isn't it?

I just wish that somehow the Montreal Canadiens hockey club could in some way, pass the gist of the ideal to their captain that an inch of goodwill is worth a million miles in the minds of his critics and supportors.

And hey, wouldn't it just mess with certain heads if he were to issue a statement on his french!

Now please do not perceive me wrong. I think that Saku Koivu is one of the greatest Canadiens captains of all time. It is hardly his burden to attempt to please every single demand asked of him.

It would have been a good thing if he had been able, or enabled, to show up for this club function.

Anyone questioning his character because he did not, needs to examine themselves more closely than they need to scope our captain.

It really should never have been a story. It never should have wasted so much ink and keyboard time. It goes way off the mark when it become a radio or television segment of discussion.

Dave Stubbs was dead on in aiming an arrow at Bertrand Raymond for suggesting, "Koivu has never been in the mold of great Canadiens captains who will make it a point to go that extra step."

While Raymond points out that no one is asking of Koivu that he be the second coming of Jean Beliveau, that seems to be the exact standard he is holding Koivu up to.

No, Saku is not Jean Beliveau. He could never be him, in any stretch of imagination. He is also not Bob Gainey, or Henri Richard or Butch Bouchard or the Rocket. The brothers Richard, Bouchard, and Gainey, were no Beliveau's either, but they did not have to suffer such comparisons.

Saku Koivu doesn't need to be any of his predecessors. He has done admirably well being himself.

Below are translations of the Raymond and Pierre Durocher pieces that appeared early last week in Le Journal de Montreal.

The Absense Of Koivu

There is no intention of making a big deal out of Saku Koivu's absense at the club's seasonal opening golf tournament.

There were six other absentees, but Koivu is not an ordinary player. He is not just any other of the 20 players on the team. He is the Canadiens captain and team leader. Unfortunately, he is noticible by his absence.

Not much new to add here. Koivu has never been in the mold of great Canadiens captains who will make it a point to go that extra step.

It changes nothing to what he is able to bring to the team on the ice. It is only that he sometimes gives off the impression that he doesn't quite understand the full nature of his role. We can even logically ask whether he finds the role of captain perhaps too burdensome, he who has now worn the "C" for nine seasons.

No one is asking him to be the next Jean Beliveau. We would just like that he live up to the vote of confidence shown in him, that is not something accorded to everyone.

When questioned on the subject, Canadiens president Pierre Boivin stepped lightly.

"I am not aware of the family obligations of each of the players", he said. "In Saku's case, the question is valid, but I'm not aware of the answer."

Where Was Koivu?

The absense of Saku Koivu and six other players at the Canadiens golf tournament has reached heated debates on television and radio. The public in general has reacted badly to it.

In the title of captain, it seems Koivu could have made the effort to be present, but instead chose to remain in Finland with his family.

"Each year, players have the option or not, to participate in the tournament", says Donald Beauchamps, vice president of communications with the Canadiens.

"Saku is presently involved in an intensive training program in Finland."

"He skates regularly with TPS Turku", he adds.

"The club understands his position of not wanting to interrupt his preparation schedule in light of the upcoming training camp. Jetting over from Helsinki to Montreal would not have been a good thing."

That is the official version according to Beauchamps, who is in regular contact with Koivu.

The Finnish player rarely gives interviews over the phone.

This past June, he even hung up on Le Journal cohort Marc de Foy.

Decidedly, controversy seems to stick to Koivu's skin.

We recall that last season at the tournament, he had to explain himself concerning a quote in which he said that he did not see the Canadiens as aspiring to the Stanley Cup.

And again, there is always the infamous question of language that resurfaces annually.

Many people would like to see Koivu make some small effort to speak in french, considering that his wife and children speak the language.