Everyone knows the saying about excuses; I’ll leave the toilet humor out, but the comparison ends with the saying that “Everyone has one and they all stink.”
To Martin Havlat’s credit, he had about as many excuses for his slow start as he could have,but he didn’t use a one of them.
The Wild are 6-2-0 in their last eight games, and Havlat is a big reason why. After an agonizingly slow start to the season, the Czech playmaker is beginning to hit his stride playing alongside Kyle Brodziak and Guillaume Latendresse with nine points over his last eight games, including six in his last three.
Expectations were sky high for Havlat coming into Minnesota. He was replacing the enigmatic, but talented Marian Gaborik and was expected to be a creative and talented offensive catalyst. In addition, he was saddled with the most lucrative contract in team history—a $30-million, six-year deal that was signed in the off season.
Through his first 19 games, however, saying that he didn’t live up to the hype, would be a vast understatement.
In his first 19 games wearing the Iron Range Red of the Minnesota Wild, Havlat had two goals and six assists, with a staggeringly awful minus-14 rating. With every game, pressure was mounting on Havlat to do something to turn his game around, while the man he was tabbed to “replace,” Gaborik, was thriving with the New York Rangers (for comparison’s sake, Gaborik had 15 goals and 12 assists, with a plus-six rating over his first 19 games).
Havlat began to be derided by media and fans alike, even being tabbed as the worst free agency signing of the off season.
All the while, the excuses mounted:the pressure of a new large contract, the change in scenery, teammates, and the system,but Havlat used none of them.
Instead, he did exactly what a team leader should do;he put his nose to the grindstone and kept pushing.
“There is a visible change when you watch the way he’s playing,” Coach Todd Richards told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I know the points have come, but for me, it has nothing to do with that. It’s his commitment level, his work ethic. When you’re committed to doing things, especially a player with the talent he has, he’s going to get offensive opportunities and create for his teammates—and that’s what he’s done.”
While his renewed vigor on the ice has not necessarily always shown by way of points, you can tell that his season is slowly turning around by his work ethic. By the way the he goes into the corners, by the way that he battles for the puck, or finishes his checks.
Havlat’s attitude through all of this has been one of his most enjoyable attributes. You can always tell what a player is made of when the going gets tough and the going has most certainly been tough for Havlat this season.
What is remarkable to me, however, is that Havlat has always stood front and center during both the good times and the bad. He has always made himself available to the media and held himself accountable for his mistakes, while other stars on the Wild have not.
But even as his play is turning around, Havlat remains levelheaded.
His comment leading up to the team’s 2-1 victory over Columbus?
“Two good games doesn’t mean everything’s fine. I felt better, but I have to keep it going. I know I can still be much better than I am.”
That is probably the most encouraging thing that Wild fans could hear.
Indeed, his season has turned around, but rest assured that Martin Havlat is not just satisfied with turning it around,he won’t be satisfied until he is playing the best hockey of his career.
Now that’s a superstar that we can be proud of and cheer on.