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Coach vs. Koci

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David Koci’s hit on Mike Green Tuesday night drew plenty of buzz amongst media and fans alike, and rightly so. At the very least it was seen as an unnecessary boarding penalty in a game that was already out of reach, and for many it was deserving of a suspension (though none would be forthcoming).

Garnering just as much attention these days, however, is the less than kind review of Koci’s "skills" by Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau:

"Please, the guy [Koci] has one goal in six years. He couldn't play in the American League. I've faced David Koci a lot. He might be a nice guy -- I have no idea. I'm glad he's making a living. Let's be honest if this was any [other] game he gets on the ice in the first three minutes, gets into his fight and then he sits at the end of the bench, so what good is he?

It shows what we have to get rid of to have a good game. The guys that are sitting at the end of the bench and they come out and hit a guy for the sake of 'I've got to run around like an idiot or I'll never play again' — those are the guys we've got to get rid of."

It's not the first time this year that Boudreau has called out an opposing team's player - or even the first time this month - and it probably won't be the last. For some, Boudreau's criticism came across as being far too harsh, labeled "mean-spirited" by former Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish. It's somewhat understandable to believe that - after all, singling out one's own players in the media is the norm; going after guys on other teams, not so much.

What's not understandable are those suddenly calling Boudreau a hypocrite for criticizing Koci's presence on the ice. That's the stance being taken by Penguins Insider, a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins blog that seeks to point out said hypocrisy by providing a laundry list of tough guys who have played for Boudreau during his coaching career. Names like Kip Brennan, George Parros and Donald Brashear are thrown around as a way of proving that Boudreau only wants that aspect out of the game when it comes against his teams:

You don’t like that a role player hit your best defenseman. You’re sticking up for your guy. We get it. But walk the walk if you’re going to talk like that. This is a guy who wrote the names "Robitaille" and "Brennan" on his lineup card night after night in Hershey. Spare me the pontificating.

Ah, touché, good sir.

It's an interesting cast of characters presented - it's also both misleading and not at all proof of any hypocrisy. First of all, it ignores the fact that the NHL is vastly different than the AHL and the other minor leagues. Fighting is more commonplace in the minors, penalty minutes more frequent. Case in point - there are currently nine AHLers with 100+ penalty minutes already this season (some of whom have played as few as 18 games); in the NHL, there's only one.

At no point in his anti-Koci rant did Boudreau suggest that the two leagues were comparable in skill level or alike in their use of "goons"; in fact, he makes the point that Koci's skills (and "skills") would barely cut it in the AHL. Even if he hadn't made that distinction, the fact is that Boudreau coached the way he needed to coach to win, and he did so with what he had. 

And George Parros still managed to score 17 goals in Manchester under Boudreau's watch.

So what about that one Washington Capital on the list, Monsieur Brashear? We all remember big, bad Brash and his big, bad fists - and the big, bad penalty minutes that came with them. The Caps certainly had an enforcer on their roster during Boudreau's tenure here.

And yet Brashear was never used the way Koci has been and continues to be used. For all his fighting ability, Brash still earned a decent chunk of ice time because he could play hockey. In his three years here his ice time was consistent with that of a fourth-liner, averaging 7:58 his first season, 7:51 during the 2007-08 season and 8:14 a night last year. Many nights his ice time would go into double-digits (and this from a guy who was consistently in the 13-minute range before father time started to catch up with him).

He also had more points in each of those three seasons than Koci has in his entire NHL career so far.

Koci, on the other hand, has never averaged more than six minutes a night - and his ice time the last two seasons has been closer to four-and-a-half minutes a night. Not exactly a go-to guy, or even a guy who serves any sort of purpose beyond patrolling the ice for 270 seconds and spending nearly that much time in the penalty box for his troubles - for his career, he's averaging 4:27 of ice time and 3:43 penalty minutes per game.

Just a game before meeting the Caps, Koci played exactly two seconds... just long enough to do what he does (albeit not so well some times), namely getting into a fight, sitting in the box for five minutes and spending the rest of the evening on the bench.

It's a living, breathing example of what Boudreau was getting at - and to call him a hypocrite is to miss his point completely. He's saying that the NHL doesn't need players who do little more than fill a roster spot and a seat on the bench. It doesn't need guys who skate 3 minutes of a 60 minute game, and maybe draw an early fight, or worse, injure an opponent (especially given the potential long-term effects of head shots) In short, it doesn't need guys like Koci.

And that's a point that's hard to argue with.