Ask Gary: Kucherov translates easily into ‘controversy.’

by Gary Shelton on April 29, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

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Nikita Kucherov had some interesting comments recently that don’t exactly fall under the category of “From Russia with Love." Personally I’m glad someone is upset enough to speak out about how some players underperformed this year. Hopefully he will name names when he meets with Yzerman who appears to be taking this matter seriously. Could this be a wake-up call to Jon Cooper that he needs to communicate and listen to his core players better? Do you think this controversy will be good for the Lightning in the long run?

Larry Beller

Larry, it could be a sort of wake-up call once you sift through the smoke and vagueness. I like it when players are honest, but I fear that Kucherov was caught speaking frankly in a forum where he didn't think it would get back to the team. Obviously, it did.

Personally, I wish Kucherov had said more. I wish he'd have named names. I wish he'd have talked about games where the season was lost. I wish he would have talked about the shift from overachievers to underachievers.

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My guess is that Kucherov will retreat from his own statements instead of naming names. A lot of athletes do. He was speaking in his own language, far from home, and the words made it back. But Kucherov had several chances to say the same thing here and didn't.

I'd love for the Bolts to ask around, even off-the-record, and try to find the truth here. Was it really just a frustrated athlete, or is there concern that certain players eased off the gas once they got their big money? I would assume we aren't talking about the shoddy defense. I would assume we aren't talking about Ben Bishop's subpar year. That didn't seem to be what Kucherov was talking about.

Did he mean Killorn? Killer is probably the only guy who got big bucks and then had a bad year. Hedman got paid, but he's up for a major award.

I'll say this. Kucherov had better not slack off. You don't want to turn into the guy you were talking about.

The MLB Disabled List as of 4/28/2017 includes a total of 154 players, an average of 5.1 per team. At the low end, the Chicago Cubs have none on the list and at the high end the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers each have 11. Is this wide variability between teams all because of happenstance, or do some teams actually do a better job of managing the health of their players?

Scott Myers

Scott, I think you have the makings of a fine medical journal. I've had football coaches tell me for years that certain athletes were injury-prone and certain ones stayed on the field. I'm sure it's true for baseball. Otherwise, how do you explain Cal Ripkin's durability.

My guess is that you'd find that certain teams -- teams who are young, for instance -- fare better with the disabled list than other teams. If an older player's body starts to break down, it seems that there is always something wrong with him. Some players' bodies just can't take the wear and tear of the game. Remember Rocco Baldelli?

I'm sure there is some happenstance involved. But I don't think it's all happenstance. The Rays take a lot of risks with injuries when they sign guys. And you end up with, say, a Matt Duffy, who never seems to get off the disabled list. That's part of it, too.

Don Shula said it a long time ago. The best ability is availability. You can't help a team when you're hurt.

It's deja vu all over again (thanks Yogi) as the Rays begin their march to mediocrity (or worse). Just as last year, the main culprit is the starting pitching, in my opinion. No matter how healthy the bullpen is, if the starters don't go past the fifth inning, the relievers will burn out before July. Do you think the rotating door of catchers the last few years might be part of the problem--or has Jim Hickey lost his touch?

Barry McDowell

I don't think it's Hickey, to be honest. He was a smart guy when he had good pitching. Without good pitching, he didn't get dumb overnight. I've always thought this pitching staff had a lot more reputation than it did results. Chris Archer has a losing record for his career. Alex Cobb is still healing. Blake Snell isn't there yet. Jake Odorizzi still needs to get better.

If you look at the bullpen, I think it has a chance. The starting lineup has a little pop. The defense is decent. But this team's fortunes will be decided by the starting rotation.

Personally, I don/t think it's good enough.

Although I saw my first pro hockey game in the early 70’s (the Flyers, tough bunch of men), I’m not truly a hockey fan, although I watch the Lightning from time to time. But as the Stanley Cup plays forward, I do have a question. Hockey is the only team sport that encourages, or at least doesn’t discourage, fighting between grown men who are decked out in helmets and padding. I’ve rarely seen anyone get hurt. Fighting because someone got you angry with a hit, touched your goalie, or because your team needs a shot of adrenalin, does not strike me as the height of good sportsmanship. Yet, unlike Hockey, the losers of the MLB, NFL, NBA, WNBA, or the various professional soccer championships aren’t required to line up and shake the hands of the victors, an exercise promoted as “good sportsmanship” in the hockey world. If they are such fine sportsman, why don’t they stop the fighting? Or if they are the warriors of the sports world, ready to throw down the gloves at the slightest provocation, why don’t they forget the handshake and at least be honest about their game?

Cecil DeBald

Cecil, hockey has greatly reduced the fighting aspect in recent seasons. But I think as long as players have to police themselves, there will be some of it. A lot of times, an early-game fight can stir the juices of a team. It's certainly better than these baseball shove-and-pose brawls, right?

I wonder how many fans even care about sportsmanship these days. I was talking to a writer the other day who had written a "don't draft Joe Mixon" column, and he was talking about all the negative e-mail he received. Fans, the vocal ones, have forgotten about doing the right thing. I wrote a piece that severely criticized Richie Incognito, and the fans were outraged.

I remember covering an NBA playoff game where Latrell Sprewell was cheered, and wrote that if O.J.'s trial had come after his third season, fans would have cheered his return. We assume teams want to win but only in the right way. To some fans, there is no wrong way.


Nikita Kucherov's public rant was quite stunning (although I do believe he was mostly on target). Do you think he has burned his bridges with the Lightning or can Stevie Y and/or Cooper force detente with their players?

Barry McDowell​

It'll be forgotten by his second stint on the ice. It was vague, and it was never meant to be widely quoted. Kucherov will talk about how frustrated he was, and teammates will remember that he scored 40 goals, and that will be the end of it.

If I were Alex Killorn, who signed for big money and gad a bad year, I might want a better explanation. But Kucherov mainly speaks Russian. If he wants to be forgiven, it'll be easy to make it happen.

Again, if I ran the Lightning, I'd want to know more. I'd want to know if the average Lightning player thought there was slacking off by this team. Not being good enough is one thing, but putting it on "coast" is something else. Steve Yzerman owes it to his team to find out the truth. The answers he finds might help him shape his roster.

What is your take on the Kucherov comments? I think that what he said is true and needed to be said. I just wish he had done it here.

Jim Willson

My only problem with what Kucherov said was the vagueness involved. He suggested there were players who got bigger contracts and who didn't play afterward. That's kind of a hand grenade if you aren't open with the names. You paint the innocent as well as the guilty..

I wish Kucherov would have said it here, too. But here, he seems bored in English-speaking press conferences. I guess speaking in his native language brings out the best in him.

I do wish Kooch would stick to his guns. If he would show up and say that this was a problem with this team, and the bosses needed to straighten it out, I'd have more respect for him. He doesn't have to name names to us, but he does need to name them to Yzerman.

Just out of curiosity, how many of the local pro athletes live in the Tampa Bay area. It seems like a lot of former players and coaches still live here.

Jim Willson

A lot of athletes live here. Heck, it's a good place to live. The weather is good except for those clay oven days of summer. There is no state income tax. You have access to water. Most of the great Tampa Bay players still live around here. Pete Sampras lived here. Derek Jeter. Lee Roy Selmon. Tony Dungy. Derrick Brooks. Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.

You live here,too. There must be a reason.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cecil DeBald May 1, 2017 at 2:33 pm

IRT fighting and handshakes in hockey, I actually don’t care much one way or the other about the fighting, much ado over nothing in my book. I was more interested in why the NHL insists on the handshake after a playoff series is won, insists (from what I hear) that it is “good sportsmanship”, which in my mind is a laugh given the pitiful fighting, the dirty play that Larry pointed out. I for one am sure the only reason the players do it is because they have to, by both league rules and tradition. Not a speck of good sportsmanship in my book…

Cecil

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Larry Beller April 29, 2017 at 7:28 am

I think the meeting Kucherov has with Yzerman will be the proper time for him to name names. I would love to know who he was talking about as well but doing that in public is probably not the best way to go. A private meeting with the boss is the perfect way to get his point across and I’m like you and hope he doesn’t back down. The coach should be involved also because if his habit of frequently switching up the lines is harmful to the players it needs to be addressed. Why not include the players in some of those decisions about who plays on what line?

Regarding the comment about fights in hockey, I don’t think fighting is the problem as much as the dirty play that is allowed in hockey more than any other sport. The spearing incident in the Lightning game against Boston is a perfect example. That Boston player who has a history of dirty play is lightly punished by the authorities so he continues on the same pattern. Injuries are kept secret for fear of reprisals by opponents. That part of hockey needs to be cleaned up so the best players can play without fear of being seriously injured. I for one don’t care about seeing the goons fight but rough play is part of the game and fights will break out on occasion. Players who try to injure should be dealt with more sternly and if they don’t shape up be banned from the game.

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