October 28, 2010
Life's more interesting when Allan Walsh is airing grievances. Like when, as Jaroslav Halak's(notes) agent, he pointed out Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price's(notes) statistic shortcomings and drew the ire of the Montreal press. Like when, as Petr Sykora's(notes) agent, he went after Minnesota Wild Coach Todd Richards for treating Sykora "with less respect than a rookie" after being a healthy scratch in consecutive games.
Havlat signed a 6-year, $30 million contract with the Wild in Summer 2009, joining Walsh for a bridge burning with the Chicago Blackhawks over their decision to choose Marian Hossa(notes) over Havlat in free agency and what the duo believed was unprofessional behavior by 'Hawks management.
His first year with the Wild was limited by injury, as he produced 54 points in 73 games and played to a minus-19. This season, he doesn't have a goal in eight games; and while his average ice time is 16:53, it dipped to an average of 14:28 during a three-game stretch this month.
That, plus Havlat's place in the Wild lineup, drew a rebuke from Walsh in an email to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune:
"Since [his signing], 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?"
Shocking as this might sound, the Wild disagreed with Walsh.
Russo wrote that Richards deferred comment to Fletcher, who gave public support (and some evidence to the contrary) in response to Walsh.
From Russo and the Star Tribune:
"Todd and I don't want to get into a public debate with Allan, but I do think it's important to make two points. First, we value Marty as a player and we certainly recognize he's a top offensive talent in the NHL. Second, ice time fluctuates for every player with performance, penalties, injuries, game situations, etc.
"In a couple games this season, Marty played more even-strength minutes than any other forward on our team, but over the last three games, we've been shorthanded 22 times."
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.
Richards plans on using Chuck Kobasew(notes) with Havlat and Matt Cullen(notes), who is the team's leading scorer this season. When Pierre-Marc Bouchard(notes) finally returns from injury, Havlat could see time with him as well.
So Walsh may have pulled the trigger on this one too early, having a go at Richards and Fletcher just eight games into the year and with some mitigating circumstances for Havlat's ice time. Maybe it's a way to take the heat off a player struggling out of the gate. Maybe it's some political pressure now that will pay dividends later.
Whatever the motivation, Walsh has every right to go public with a defense of his client. We support that candor; perhaps you feel it's him speaking of turn. Bottom line: The guy's been more right than wrong in his outrage.