Friday, May 23, 2008

I Like Dmitri Kalinin

Since the Finals are still refusing to start, I would like to talk about Dmitri Kalinin. I was planning on saving all the posts about individual players until the off-season since I have no idea what I'm going to write about all summer but chances are good that Tri will no longer be here. Don't worry, haters, I'm not about to argue that the Sabres re-sign him although I certainly don't think it would be a huge mistake. No, I just want to go on the record as saying that I think Dmitri Kalinin has repeatedly gotten the shaft in Buffalo.

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.

Photo by Mike Lynaugh (See for more of his excellent Sabres photos)

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.


M.J. said...

You know, I am not a big Tri fan but I have to agree. Sometimes a player just doesn't work out in the system. It doesn't mean they suck, or the team sucks, there just isn't chemistry. Phoenix put Briere on waivers, Buffalo picked him up, you saw what happened.

While, like I said, not Tri's biggest fan, I think he could be one of those players who could be really good if he just found the right system to play in.

Erin said...

I love this post. I'm not a huge Kalinin fan or anything but I felt his pain when he was taking so much abuse from the coach, the fans and the press.

I too wish him the best. Well Done Heather.

Kate said...

Aw, Tri is lucky to have a friend like you.

Vanek's Hair said...

I have not always liked Kalinin. But he has always been a playoff performer. Go back to 2006, he was very good throughout the playoffs that year, until he decided to join the rest of the Sabres defence on the injured list. Last year, in Round 1 and 2 he was their best defenceman, hands down. But people fail to notice that. EVen back in 2001, he was good in the playoffs.

He is just flaky in the regular season. I recall a game against the Canes in 2006 where he was an ice skating tire fire, and you would have thought I changed his name to Dimtri "F*cking" Kalinin.

But all in all, I would have liked that talent to be harnessed and put together here. But not all first round picks become Hall of Famers.

And the Sabres had a slightly higher winning percentage after the Campbell trade.

Mark B said...

I agree with most here in saying that Tri needs a change of scenery. He was disappointing but didn't really deserve the extent of criticism he received.

I hope he does well somewhere else as long as it isn't against us.

dani said...

I've had a hunch, for a long time now, that Lindy has a soft spot for Kalinin.

Anne M said...

It bugs me that Kalinin gets such a bad rap when over his career, he's been just about as inconsistent as Brian Campbell. In fact, I'd venture a guess that Campbell saw way more press box time in his career than Kalinin did. And I'm totally with you that Ruff just hasn't figured Kalinin out. When I think about how Ruff (and the Sabres generally) mollycoddled Miro Satan vs. the way he coached Kalinin, it pisses me off. I love Ruff, but I really think he has completely misread this player.

I also think Kalinin gets the short end of the stick a little because he's quiet and always has been. He's a shy guy, even as his English improved, and I think fans (understandably) prefer players with more personality. But as many times as I've joined Vanek's Hair in calling him Dmitri F. Kalinin, I have had a soft spot for him since he was an Amerk and I admit I'll be a little sorry to see him go.

Patty (in Dallas) said...

What a great picture! That's truly one of my favorite moves. The Stick Lift. Especially when he's diving from across the ice to catch the guy on a breakaway. LOVE IT.

amanda said...

Tri has definitely gotten a bum rap around here. I wish him well and I think he'll be more comfortable and play better in another system.

It seems like Buffalo always needs a fall guy - one or two players to rail on constantly. Remember (I know I'm going to spell this wrong) Yuri Khymlev? Or Dwayne Roloson (who turned out to be a pretty good goaltender). There are other examples, but like the gecko said, "You get my point."

Heather B. said...

Thanks, guys. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who at least sympathizes with Tri a bit.

I hope he does well somewhere else as long as it isn't against us.

I kind of hope he kicks our ass. That would be hilarious. And then some people - and perhaps a columnist or two - would complain that we let an affordable and reasonably talented d-man go. And that would even more hilarious. I don't want him to eliminate us from the playoffs or anything but Dmitri Kalinin deserves to be a thorn in our side a time or two.

I've had a hunch, for a long time now, that Lindy has a soft spot for Kalinin.

Dani, that is so interesting because I'm convinced Lindy can't stand him (as a player) and that his departure will largely be because Lindy is tired of dealing with him. Any reason you feel the opposite or is it one of those undefinable "that's just what I think" things?

It bugs me that Kalinin gets such a bad rap when over his career, he's been just about as inconsistent as Brian Campbell.

Good point, Anne. I actually had the same thought but with Ales Kotalik where you put Campbell (who is also a good fit). I suppose Al is more noticeable when he's playing well because he's scoring goals but still. I think he's good sometimes and completely invisible the rest of the time.

And you might be right about his personality. Again, this is based on my interpretation but it seems a little bit oddball for a professional athlete - extremely shy and seemingly lacking in confidence. That was always part of the reason I liked him - I like how different it is - but I do think it probably made it hard for fans to get attached enough that they were willing to overlook some of the bad spots. A lot of people have probably barely heard him talk. (And it's possible that the shyness is him just not being very sure of his English. I don't know.)

Patty, I knew you would appreciate that photo. I love that play too and the image captures it perfectly. I actually found a really cool series of that play with one photo before this one and one after it but I thought it was overkill to post them all (except maybe for you :-D)

Amanda, I guess every team has a fall guy. Tri just doesn't have the personality to handle it as well as some guys do or so it seems at least.

Becky said...

A pet peeve of mine is how the announcers will phrase things for different players, whether subconsciously or deliberately.

The goats "give away the puck" and cause "yet another turnover".

The favored players merely "mishandle" the puck, or "suffer a lapse in concentration".

It's all in the phrasing and can sway the perceptions of the viewers whether they (both the viewers and the announcers) realize it or not.

Buffalo is definitely big on fall guys.

Hannah said...

You're the first person I've ever found who finally gets what I've said for ages now. I love Dmitri Kalinin and seeing him leave Buffalo is definitely hard, but in Buffalo he's highly underrated and I think being with a new team will be a huge new start for him. Kudos to you.