Leaving Nashville

In Leadership by Brock Bourgase

On Tuesday, the Nashville Predators suspended two of their late season acquisitions, Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov, for missing curfew during a playoff series with the Phoenix Coyotes. The players, ostensibly added to the roster in order to strengthen the squad for the postseason, appear to have lost focus at a critical time as they were allegedly sighted at 4:00am in a Scottsdale bar the night/morning before a lopsided loss that placed the team at a 0-2 deficit in the series. When a group of people comes together to form a team, nothing is more disheartening than when a few individuals put aside collective goals so they can meet personal needs and wants. The Predators pair placed the individual above the community and the present ahead of the future.General Manager David Poile – who traded prospects for Kostitsyn and allowed Radulov to play in only nine games as part of the final year of his entry-level contract – have been tremendously frustrated because Nashville’s first playoff run was jeopardized by the actions of two potential contributors he paid dearly for. Coach Barry Trotz – who believes in building relationships with players in order to help them improve – must have felt deeply disappointed and somewhat betrayed. The two are left trying to pick up the pieces and turn things around for a team that still has a fair chance to win, given their goaltending and favourable home ice advantage in the next two games.

Incidents like this reflect the age of a team and their stage of development. In his memoir The Road to Hockeytown Jimmy Devellano recounts how a young Detroit Red Wings team faced the Edmonton Oilers in the 1988 Campbell Conference Finals. Before the last game, a number of Red Wings (including Steve Chaisson, Bob Probert and Joey Kocur) spent the night partying in Edmonton and the impact on the team was destructive; a pebble thrown by a handful of individuals created a rippled that expanded well beyond the Game 5 blowout and permeated the entire off-season.

Firstly, in retrospect, we know now that many of the players involved in the incident suffered from substance abuse problems and have battled addictions throughout their lives (Chaisson and Probert died as a result of their drug and alcohol use). Hopefully any players, coaches, trainers, doctors or front-office personnel who witness such behaviour in a teammate would assist them in getting the treatment they need. Sport attracts those with compulsive personalities but it can no longer gloss over some of the side effects stemming from the intense competitive nature of athletes.

Devellano was shocked because he had come from successful organizations (the post-expansion St. Louis Blues and the New York Islanders dynasty) and he could not believe how players could lose focus at a critical time. Although the Red Wings were acquiring the talent that they needed to compete, they had not yet established the strong organizational culture that they now exemplify. Steve Yzerman had yet to develop the leadership skills that defined the later part of his career and the team lacked veteran role players to model the way. When building a team, it was clear that talent was not the only criteria for selecting players. Devellano needed to convince the young players to change their ways or replace them with others who could perform at high standards throughout the year.