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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
Not to kick up another big old fuss about Russian players getting mistreated in North American hockey, but it seems that lately, these guys just can't avoid it.
Earlier this week, Damian Cox of the Toronto Star tweeted that he had spoken with an unnamed Western Conference general manager about why Mikhail Grigorenko's draft stock was dropping so precipitously over the last few weeks, and found out it's a question of age.
"I think he's 20, not 18," the GM reportedly told Cox.
Well, that's not exactly a new revelation. Apparently, people have been aware of this rumor for some time. If it's true, it's a big deal. Think of how much better a 20-year-old would fare in the CHL than someone who had barely turned 18. Think about how much that would help his draft stock.
Unfortunately for Cox and any other rumormongers out there who might choose to run down Grigorenko on this basis, it simply isn't true.
As Andrey Osadchenko reveals, these rumors were so prevalent in the Eastern Hemisphere that his old Russian club had the FSB — that is, the agency that used to be known as the KGB — look into them. While Russia is, at its core, a mildly corrupt country (to put it nicely), if there was something to find, the KGB would have found it.
Beyond that, of course, Grigorenko seems to be a player who actually lives up to all the lazy stereotypes lazy hockey types throw out about his countrymen. Oh yeah, he hung up gigantic numbers in the QMJHL (40-45-85 in 59 games) but in "big games," he was nowhere to be found, relatively. Two goals and five points in six games at World Juniors, and though he was playing with an injury, Osadchenko points out that many suspected it wasn't nearly as bad as he let on. Certainly, his coached believed it was not serious enough that he should have been a scratch, which is something he asked for.
Not showing up for the World Juniors? Begging out over a playable injury? Oh, and did I mention he has a questionable work ethic and seems to throw in into neutral for some games? (Never mind that this can be explained away by the fact that Grigorenko was literally playing through the QMJHL playoffs despite a bout of mono and was so physically tapped out from it that he couldn't compete in the NHL Combine.) That in and of itself, would be enough to fry a Good Canadian Boy.
So why is it, one has to wonder, that when a Russian player actually kind of lives up to the reputation his countrymen have gained for whatever reason, that people have to go looking for other reasons to trash him?
Lots of people took the chance to speak out of both sides of their mouth during the Stanley Cup Finals, noting that Ilya Kovalchuk really needed to step up his game while simultaneously acknowledging he was playing with a debilitating back injury rumored to have been a herniated disc.
Meanwhile, as Cox noted in a strong column yesterday, the number of Russians in the league is dwindling rapidly, and their place in it is very much a question now and going forward. But I think the place is pretty clear.
No matter how transcendent the talent the nation produces (see: Malkin, Evgeni), as long as the KHL exists as some Eastern menace looking to swoop in and capture every discontented European with big-money, tax-free offers, regardless of how bad they are in the NHL (see: Pavelec, Ondrej), there will always be a stigma on Russian players.
As Cox points out, it was just a few decades ago that teams were falling all over themselves to sign Soviet players left and right, and now they're viewed as damaged goods right out of the box. If they're good, they're too good, and they're going to go back to the KHL at the first available opportunity.
It's unclear exactly how many times both Nail Yakupov (and Grigorenko too) will have to swear up and down on a stack of rejected NHL/KHL transfer agreements that they won't go back to Russia to ply their trade before the media accept, "I'm committed to North American hockey," as an answer they want to hear.
And if they're not good enough, then they're the typical Russians we always thought they were, and who cares if they stay in the KHL anyway.
No matter how many Malkins and Kovalchuks the country produces, there will always be an Alex Semin or, apparently, Grigorenko, for critics to point at and say, "Yes but…" and really, that's too bad. Nothing they do will ever be good enough to satisfy some people that an entire nation isn't the absolute worst place you can be from, and as Grigorenko has repeatedly learned, they're just going to make stuff up about you anyway.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on how nice it is to be invited: "Like to thank the NHL for bringing me to the NHL awards this year. Apparently seat fillers were hard to find so they got desperate."
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