The Valentenko Mysteries

Well, news that Pavel Valentenko has possibly signed a three-year contract with Moscow Dynamo is a kick in the pants, isn’t it?  It’s bad enough that a young, interesting prospect in a position the Canadiens need the most seems to have left the organization, but it’s worse that it looks like he’s followed the exodus (or refusal to come to North America at all) of promising draft picks like Alexander Perezhogin, Alexei Yemelin and Konstantin Korneev.

If it’s true, the question has to be why?  Why would a guy who’s always said he’s committed to the North American game suddenly turn tail and head home?  Already, without even a confirmation that the story is true, fans are accusing Valentenko of jumping for better money.  There are rumours that he’s got a family issue that requires him to be closer to home.  Whatever the reason, if he’s actually leaving the Canadiens organization, we have to believe the decision was well thought out and important to him.  That’s because Pavel Valentenko isn’t a jerk or a money-grubber.  He’s a passionate, hard-working young man who really, really wanted to play for the Canadiens.

I met him at the Hamilton Bulldogs’ camp last month, and had an interesting conversation with him about dedication and what it means to quit.  Here are some of the things he said:

"The first thing in my head is I enjoy the hockey.  The second thing is it’s my job.  What makes me different is my heart.  I never quit.  If I have mistakes, I don’t quit, I work more."

And:

"I had a couple of my friends who quit hockey because they didn’t make a farm team or a professional team.  But I think somebody make mistakes because everybody’s different and everybody needs different time.  Some start playing at 22, 23 years old.  Some can play earlier.  They should wait and not quit."

He was enthusiastic and positive about the coming year.  In short, not the kind of guy you’d imagine would throw away the work he’s invested into making the NHL without a very good reason.  If it’s money, it wouldn’t be completely shocking, considering the difference between what he could make in Moscow compared with what he’ll bring home on an NHL entry-level two-way deal.  But when I spoke with him, he was clear in his understanding that the money would come later if he worked hard enough to make the Canadiens.

One other thing I noticed about Valentenko though, was the fact that he was alone a lot.  The other Bulldogs were talking and kidding around at practice, but he was almost always on his own.  He seems like an agreeable, friendly guy, but his English is definitely rough.  Rough enough to frustrate him to the point of returning to Russia, I don’t know.  But adjusting to a team without any other Russians was probably pretty tough.

Of course, the story at this moment is still unconfirmed as far as North American sources are concerned, although some media are reporting the Habs gave Valentenko permission to play in Russia for one year.  But, if Valentenko has gone, for one year or longer, I hope Habs fans don’t start making wild accusations about his character and dedication because they don’t like his decision.  Instead, fans should just be sorry the team has lost a fine prospect…if, in fact, it has.

As we wait for confirmation on Valentenko’s status, though, it *does* give the Canadiens’ brass some serious food for thought.  The Russians are a risk these days, and continue to be a risk even when they’ve signed contracts in North America.  If the Canadiens can’t keep young Russian prospects when they’re considered one of the most Russia-friendly teams in the NHL, what hope do the other teams have of doing so?  The NHL is going to have to look at changing the limits on entry-level deals if it hopes to compete with the KHL in attracting young European players.  And maybe teams need to do more to help their young draftees learn about the language and culture before they come to North America and get a crash course in survival away from home. 

Whatever’s going on, I wish Pavel Valentenko the best.  But I hope the story of the three-year contract is a rumour because he’s the kind of guy you want to be a Hab some day.


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