Listen, I understand why people find him frustrating. He's inconsistent and he never quite seemed to get his confidence together. One mistake, even a small one, totally sent him spinning and it sometimes took him weeks to get himself back together. But I've never understood why the criticism of him is so intense compared to other players. I'll use last year's playoffs as an example. Dmitri Kalinin was one of the best Sabres in the first two rounds. Some nights he and Ryan Miller were the only guys who looked awake. One of the best plays made in the postseason - the only one I still remember now - was Dmitri Kalinin. Ryan Smyth was making a break toward the goal and Tri made a picture perfect diving defensive play. He lifted Smyth's stick, knocked the puck away, and did it without taking a penalty. It was gorgeous. But I'd bet I'm one of a handful of people who remember it because most of Buffalo stopped seeing Tri do anything good long before that. In the Conference Finals he made a turnover that led to a goal and then everyone started taking notice even though again, he'd been one of the few good players up to that point. It wasn't the first turnover in that playoffs to lead to a goal and it certainly wasn't the worst play that year. Derek Roy and Jason Pominville were garbage from the word go. Danny Briere disappeared in the Conference Finals. (Kind of like this year.) And the great Chris Drury got his butt kicked in the faceoff circle (one of his most cited strengths) especially in the Conference Finals. But none of those guys got the crap that Tri did. The second he messed up all hell broke loose on message boards across the internet.
Same thing with the end of this past season. Post-Campbell trade the entire defensive corp was shaky. (In some ways because of Campbell's absence, in some ways that were simply created by the loss of a starter.) Tallinder and Lydman were crap (sorry, Hank) and they didn't really have an excuse. They were playing with the same partner in the same role against the same competition they've had for the last couple of years. Tri went from playing on the third pairing to playing on the second pairing and more importantly, I think, went from playing with Nolan Pratt, who he'd developed a very nice chemistry with - something very important to his success - to playing with Jaroslav Spacek, someone he'd never played with and someone who plays a very different kind of game than Pratt. I was shocked that he had a hard time adjusting.
If I can psychoanalyze the city for a few minutes, I think Buffalo as a whole has had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Dmitri Kalinin has not turned into the top pairing defensemen they expected him to be. He was a first round draft pick and he had a very good season the year before the lockout. And then he just never got better. And instead of accepting him for what he was - a solid third pairing d-man who showed flashes of being even better - everyone just got all tied up in what he wasn't. My one major criticism of Lindy Ruff would be that I think he fell into that same trap. Let me make it clear that this is my interpretation. Obviously I have no idea what Dmitri Kalinin is really like and obviously I have no idea what's gone on between him and Lindy Ruff but from an outsider's point-of-view, I'm not sure Lindy ever got a handle on how to coach Tri. When word broke late this past season that Lindy had publicly berated Tri at a practice I said to a couple of different people, "That is so not going to work." And guess what, it didn't. Some players respond to that kind of thing but some don't. I've never seen anything to suggest that Tri would handle a public calling out well and Lindy has clearly become frustrated with him.
I don't want to suggest that Lindy Ruff is a pussycat because lord knows he can blow a gasket and he's not afraid to come down on players. But he also knows when to gather them up under his wings and protect them and I don't feel like Tri ever got the protection from him that others have received. Lindy isn't above making excuses for players at times and he's never made excuses for Tri. I can't cite quotes because I have to pay to access the local newspaper's archives and I'm not making enough money off this gig to do that but his remarks about Tri and Tri's play always seemed harder, more impatient, and sometimes even a little bit mean. At one point last season Lindy complimented Nolan Pratt's play, saying he was successful because he always stayed within himself. He understood Pratt's strengths and weaknesses and never put Pratt in situations he couldn't handle. I'm not sure he did the same for Tri.
So as much as I like Dmitri Kalinin, I think it probably is best for him to move on and get a fresh start somewhere else. But unlike those of you out there who will say, "Good riddance," I'll wish Tri a genuinely fond farewell. I hope he finds a good place to land. I hope he finds teammates who love him, a coach who handles him well, and a fanbase that accepts him for who he is instead of hating him for who he isn't. I may be the only one, but I'll miss you, Tri.