Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Pleauing in the Wind

17

Keith Tkachuk has filed a grievance against the St. Louis Blues for suspending him because he “failed his physical” at training camp.

Far be it from me to defend Keith Tkachuk. I don’t think much of guys who show up in training camp fat and out of shape. It’s an insult to his teammates and to his team. This post is definitely not a defense of Keith Tkachuk.

It is however an indictment of Larry Pleau for badly mishandling the incident. Let’s suppose you ran the St. Louis Blues. A player who is critical to your team’s fortunes comes into training camp fat and out of shape. He makes $7.6 million, a figure that is so ridiculous he can’t be traded. What do you do with your fat star on a ridiculous contract?

The options:

  • Handle it quietly. Chew his ass and then assign a stickboy to count laps at the 6:00 AM workouts. Run him and skate him until he throws up. Hope he learns his lesson and has a great year.
  • Go public. Announce the problem, express disappointment and humiliate him. Then assign a stickboy to count laps at the 6:00 AM workouts. Run him and skate him until he throws up. Hope he learns his lesson and has a great year.
  • Suspend him for failing a physical and turf him from the camp. Announce “He failed his physical and he’s been suspended. That’s all I’ll say.”

    Either of the first two choices is fine with me. I’d keep it in house myself and hope nobody notices but I can understand a decision to go public when the player is particularly thickheaded. The last thing I do is take Larry Pleau’s approach. Keith Tkachuk is 100% in the wrong, but that doesn’t make Pleau even a tiny bit right. His job is to make the best of a bad situation. He does not have a mandate to take a bad situation and make it worse.

    First, Pleau presents Tkachuk with a winnable grievance. What part of the physical did he fail? Usually a player who fails a physical fails because the medical people don’t think he is capable of playing. Who says he can’t play fat? Apparently the only thing the Blues did was weigh him. They do not have strength or conditioning data. Unless the Blues suspend every player who shows up overweight, they may have problems before an arbitrator. Furthermore, they do not routinely suspend players for failing physicals.

    Second, instead of making an example of him in front of his teammates (who might enjoy watching him throw up) his teammates are the ones who are publicly defending him.

    Third, Tkachuk is still a player who is critical to the team’s fortunes, he is still a player who is making $7.6 million a year and he still can’t be traded. Instead of Tkachuk feeling ashamed of himself for letting the team down – the emotion I would try to provoke in him – he is angry at the boss and creating an even bigger distraction. If it gets that far, the hearing will be very bitter and Pleau will have to say a lot more than “He failed his physical and he’s been suspended. That’s all I’ll say.”

    Peter Drucker once described leadership as a foul weather occupation. It’s easy to pilot the ship when the sailing is smooth. The test is always about the performance in a storm. Keith Tkachuk blew an ill wind at the St. Louis Blues and instead of trying for a safe harbour Larry Pleau steered his ship right into the choppiest waters.

    I’m not impressed.

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  • Comments

    17 Responses to “Pleauing in the Wind”
    1. Tkachuk is the highest paid St Louis Blue. The owners seem to have given up on this team. Conspiracy theory would be that they are happy to get out of paying Tkachuk for a while because he is suspended – they were looking for an excuse to do this.

    2. Dennis Prouse says:

      Greg might be on to something. Given that Bill Laurie owns the team, anything is possible.

      I tend to agree with Tom in that I might have been tempted to handle this internally, especially given the fact that you are stuck with the guy and his salary regardless. The two things none of us know, however, are what kind of orders Pleau might have received from ownership, and exactly HOW overweight Tkachuk was. There are some pretty wild reports floating around the ‘net, but no one really knows if we are talking about 15, 20, or 50 pounds here.

    3. I disagree, Tom.

      Those first two options you prefer would also earn the Blues a grievance from the NHLPA on Tkachuk’s behalf. Put simply, there’s no way this could’ve been kept quiet. The press would’ve found out about Tkachuk’s skating laps at 6 am, and I’m not so sure Tkachuk would’ve agreed to such a humiliating form of punishment.

      Pleau could’ve chose to suspend Tkachuk or not, and if he’d chosen the latter, he’d have set a precedent for the rest of the players that it’s okay to show up looking like Butterbean to training camp. It also would’ve bred resentment if Tkachuk wasn’t suspended, since it would’ve given the obvious impression of a star player getting special treatment.

      You’re right in that this could be a winnable grievance, but it gets the point across. Pleau will undoubtedly find another way to deal with Tkachuk, and it won’t involve making him skate laps at 6 am every morning until he pukes.

      Not that he doesn’t deserve it.

    4. snafu says:

      I think it was stupid to handle this the way it was handled.

      Putting aside all the ego issues, blame and shame games, the Blues cannot get out of paying Tkachuk’s salary. They can pay him now or they can pay him later. This ploy can only be used once to save the owner some money- that apparently he would rather not pay. However, if Tkachuk was ever going to be the “asset” he could have been to the organization, how motivated is he going to be now?

      He will get back into shape, but as we all know, he cannot be easily traded because he is too expensive to be traded [and maybe too fat as well!!!!]. To me, this was clearly a case of cutting of one’s nose to spite one’s face!

    5. baroose says:

      The Blues are having a “Meet the Team” practice session for season ticket holders on Thursday evening. If there is a question and answer session, I’m sure the subject of Tkachuk will arise. I plan to attend and I’ll let you know.

      I haven’t been listening to local sports talk radio recently, so I don’t have a read on what the callers are saying.
      Everything I hear and read says it’s just a weight issue. But I saw him skate at an exhibition in May, and he didn’t look 25 pounds overweight then. Makes me wonder if something else is going on, but there hasn’t been a sniff of anything else locally.

      As far as tone-deaf handling of player matters goes, it’s somewhat of a Blues tradition. Anybody remember Brett Hull? Wayne Gretzky? Brendan Shanahan? Doug Gilmour? The team didn’t try to retain any of them when they could still be key contributors. In Gilmour’s case, he was forced out for non-hockey reasons, but we didn’t get anything for any of those guys. The team also traded their only Hall of Famer ever (Bernie Federko) to Detroit (?!?) for his last year.

    6. Ian D. says:

      Anyone else find it ironic that it’s the next highest-paid player whose name is “Weight”?

    7. Tom Benjamin says:

      Those first two options you prefer would also earn the Blues a grievance from the NHLPA on Tkachuk’s behalf. Put simply, there’s no way this could’ve been kept quiet. The press would’ve found out about Tkachuk’s skating laps at 6 am, and I’m not so sure Tkachuk would’ve agreed to such a humiliating form of punishment.

      I don’t think he would have a choice. I don’t think he could win this grievance. It isn’t punishment per se, it is helping him get into shape to play. Filing it doesn’t help Tkachuk. Pleau’s move forces the grievance. Keith is, of course, worried about whether the suspension goes beyond October 5th.

      I agree that it is unlikely to stay quiet. That’s a good argument to go the public route. It is not a good argument for a suspension.

      Pleau could’ve chose to suspend Tkachuk or not, and if he’d chosen the latter, he’d have set a precedent for the rest of the players that it’s okay to show up looking like Butterbean to training camp. It also would’ve bred resentment if Tkachuk wasn’t suspended, since it would’ve given the obvious impression of a star player getting special treatment.

      The precedent isn’t very relevant because the Blues don’t have very many players in the Keith Tkachuk class. Star players do get special treatment. If a third liner showed up like Tkachuk showed up, he is going to lose his job.

      That – not a fear of a suspension – is what makes most players come to camp in tiptop shape. It is his security, his talent and the size of his paycheque that lets Tkachuk adopt his attitude. If he was not an excellent player, he was out of the league years ago.

    8. Joe Cheesy says:

      I find it hard to believe that it’s simply an issue with his being overweight. The best way for him to get in shape is to work with the Blues’ trainers, isn’t it? He doesn’t get paid in the off-season, so I don’t buy that it’s about the money. I suppose that you could be right, Tom, that Pleau’s simply a fool. I suspect, though, that there’s something living inside that “and that’s all I’ll say” comment, given all the problems that Tkachuk has had over the years.

    9. Tom Benjamin says:

      I suppose that you could be right, Tom, that Pleau’s simply a fool. I suspect, though, that there’s something living inside that “and that’s all I’ll say” comment, given all the problems that Tkachuk has had over the years.

      You could be right in the sense that Pleau may have a strategy that I can’t see and there may be more to the problem. He still has to find a solution though, the best solution for the hockey team. What is it?

      If the problems do go beyond his weight, why didn’t he buy out Tkachuk when he had the chance?

    10. cynical joe says:

      You mean Keith Tkachuk’s weight problem isn’t Gary Bettman’s fault?

    11. Tom:I do believe Tkachuk would’ve had a choice. He simply wouldn’t have done those laps, period. As you said, star players do get special treatment.

      Bottom line, Tkachuk as a professional hockey player knows that he has a responsibility to maintain a certain level of required fitness. Even if he’s still “strong” as Doug Weight opines, he may not be able to skate as well carrying an extra 25 pounds of shit locker. That hinders his performance and makes the Blues a lesser team.

      Again, I don’t blame Pleau for suspending him. I do blame Tkachuk for being irresponsible.

    12. Dennis Prouse says:

      If the problems do go beyond his weight, why didn’t he buy out Tkachuk when he had the chance?

      Buyouts just weren’t the bargain and cure-all that many people thought they might be. Having to pay a guy two thirds of his salary NOT to play for you, and then have the indignity of watching him sign with someone else after pocketing your cash, was too much for most teams to bear. Besides, even if they did buy out Tkachuk, they still have to replace him on their roster, so the savings are small. As evidenced by the ongoing presence of Jagr and Tkachuk, most teams found it easier to simply live with their bad contracts.

    13. Egil says:

      I have heard that Tkachuk has done this before (where the team probably did option #1), to the point where he has a clause in his contract dealing with weight. By suspending him, they don’t need to pay him, and he quite possibly will not count against the Cap.

      It is also obvious that Bill Laurie want’s to spend as little money as possible before selling the team. This could very well be an order from the owner to try to cheapskate his way out of paying Tkachuks salary while he gets in shape.

      I do agree though that the best option for St. Louis winning this season was one of the first 2, and not suspending him.

    14. Limey says:

      Even if he’s still “strong” as Doug Weight opines, he may not be able to skate as well carrying an extra 25 pounds of shit locker.

      The problem is we have no idea whether or not he can skate because they never let him on the ice.

      Maybe this is along the lines of Owen Nolan’s metaphorican finger to the Leafs, but it’s all speculation.

      One thing is certain: Pleau has guaranteed himself a major headache for the rest of Tkachuk’s contract.

    15. Tom Benjamin says:

      Besides, even if they did buy out Tkachuk, they still have to replace him on their roster, so the savings are small. As evidenced by the ongoing presence of Jagr and Tkachuk, most teams found it easier to simply live with their bad contracts.

      I generally agree, but that point is in the context of a problem between Tkachuk and the Blues that goes beyond his physical condition. If that was the case, the buyout becomes a reasonable option.

    16. Jes Golbez says:

      “I’m not impressed.”

      If Tom Benjamin was a WWE Wrestler, his theme song would definitely have to be Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much!”

    17. VAMark says:

      Another reason Jagr is still in New York – Washington is paying most of his salary. If he plays well at all, he’s a pretty good buy for the Rangers.

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