By Stevie and Yogin Shroff
Thanks to Internet hysteria, there have been two huge controversial topics on the lips (re: fingertips) of both die-hard and casual hockey fans. The first is the re-emergence of the adage that Russian hockey players are lazy. The other is that European hockey players care more about the World Championship than the Stanley Cup. In a way, these topics are completely related.
With so many players heading to play for their respective countries in the WC as they exit the playoffs (or earlier, going immediately following the end of the NHL regular season), there is a lot to consider as far as the pros and cons of NHL players making this choice.
Of course, the biggest drawback is the possibility of sustaining an injury that could hinder their production in the NHL come October. This is a nightmare for any GM as free agency comes around in July and they are forced to make considerations around a player who may or may not be well enough to play. If they are ready to play, depending on the injury, what is the guarantee that they are at 100%? The Penguins experienced this with three players this past season.
Sidney Crosby, Evegeni Malkin, and Dustin Jeffrey all carried over injuries from the regular season of last year into the 2011-2012 season. Crosby and Jeffrey did not begin the season and Malkin exited for a few games to continue rehabbing his knee. Dustin Jeffrey also struggled with his knee injury. In the 2010-2011 season, Jordan Staal also missed the start of the season recovering from injury.
On the flip side, the majority of NHL players have six months of off season to occupy themselves. Participating in the WC is a way for them to:
1. Continue working and doing what they love most.
2. Stay conditioned and physically active while still working on their game.
3. Stay competitive and challenge themselves in a do-or-die atmosphere.
4. Add to their resume and possibly their trophy case.
I see no problem with players participating in the WC. If players are afforded the chance to play in the Olympics, why not the WC? The same risks are there. The Olympics in many circles are considered the most prestigious sports championship one could conquer and one of the highest honors a player can receive.
Winning any award is an honor and deserving of celebration. Mark Madden at The X says that the WC is more important to European players than the Stanley Cup. I think this is completely untrue. Biggest argument against: Why would players choose the NHL over playing in their home countries if they didn’t want to taste the glory of Lord Stanley?
Look at players like Malkin, Datsyuk, Zetterberg… and the players remaining in these playoffs like Gaborik and Anisimov (I’m watching the Rangers game right now haha). Do you really think that the WC is on their minds? Doubtful. In the semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs, do you think at Artem Anisimov is sitting on the Rangers bench between shifts saying to himself, “Man. I really wish I was at the WC right now.”? Ridiculous at best.
Do you think that Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Semin, and Pavel Datsyuk are happier to be at the WC than still fighting for Lord Stanley? Get real.
This also dovetails us into the notion that Russian players are lazy, which I will now turn over to the guys to talk about since I went hog wild on topic number one.
Prior to game one of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin had this to say: “I read newspapers and sometimes people say if you win one Stanley Cup, you’re lucky,” he said. “They say maybe we get lucky in Game 7 against Detroit, so I want to win again. You win second time, it’s more important.”
Evgeni Malkin’s on ice production during the 82 game regular season was no fluke, nor was it a mystery. It’s become evident that the high-flying Russian superstar has the drive and motivation to be the best in the world.The same Evgeni Malkin, coming off a torn ACL/MCL injury from the previous season, proved again to the hockey world why he is among the elite players in the National Hockey League. Having scored 109 points in 75 games is clear indication of a lazy hockey player, right?
So before we go on creating irrational stereotypes, let’s revisit a few items. In the 2007-2008 campaign, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost superstars Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury high ankle sprains. Just about everybody, including the media and the fans, were ready to give up on the Pittsburgh Penguins (who at the time were one year removed from their first playoff appearance since 2001). The only person who did not give up on the season? Evgeni Malkin. Fairly certain he needed Advil after every game because his back was so sore from carrying the team every night.
Evgeni Malkin then followed up that 2007-2008 season with an even better season in 2008-2009, racking up a career high 113 points which concluded with him raising the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophies. Decimated with injuries the past two seasons, fans and media members have seemed to turn on him in a way not many cities would treat their superstar player. He quickly became a scapegoat and was involved in numerous articles suggesting he get traded from Pittsburgh.
But clearly…everything I outlined above makes him a soft, lazy Russian who doesn’t care about winning Cups. Clearly.
Now that I got my rant out of the way…it’s important to understand that Malkin is one of many Russian born players thrown under the bus with this perplexing notion of being “lazy.” You look around the league today and you see guys like Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk, etc…you don’t think these guys give it their all to win the Stanley Cup? Give me a break.
One look at Ovechkin’s passion, tenacity, and maturity throughout the Capitals two playoff rounds, is all you need to know about how much he wants to win. Kovalchuk has been a huge reason why his team (the New Jersey Devils) is in the 3rd round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. These illogical stereotypes are brought up due to the mere fact that these players are not North American born hockey players. It’s just mind-boggling to make the assumption that Russians don’t care on and off the ice as much as North American players do. Case in point, Evgeni Malkin’s off-ice training last summer.
Simply put, these “lazy” Russian players all know that at the end of their career, they want their legacy written on the Stanley Cup and they will not stop until it happens.