Valeri Nichushkin vs. Lindy Ruff: Lost in Translation or Just Lost?

(Photo credit: @ VR)

Editors Note: Originally published on Voice of Russia, guest writers Kerans’s article set the Dallas Stars blog community abuzz. David was kind of enough to allow us to publish his response to any skepticism that his article may have produced. Below is his take on the situation.

We sense that skeptical reaction to our revelation of Valeri Nichushkin’s dissatisfaction with his handling by the Dallas Stars has been the fruit of some misunderstandings. In order to address readers’ concerns, let me clarify.

First, I am not merely an investigator of the incident in question. I am also a witness (a trained and experienced one at that). I was in the small corridor serving as the media zone, standing off Nichushkin’s left shoulder while waiting for another player (Antoine Roussel) to come out for a quick exchange with me.

In my article I summarized the incident independently of any source— there is no hearsay.
Nichushkin took questions from Soviet Sport writer Natalia Bragilevskaya, who said she was polling Russian players regarding which other Russian players in the NHL were the most valuable.

Nichushkin expressed his feelings about Ruff unprompted, and calmly. He was unambiguous. He disparaged Ruff with a choice expression, then said, “He has a contract. He’s signed a contract for four years, or for five years. It’s impossible. I have to ask for a trade.” I should add that he did not rain obscenities. He did not outwardly display any emotion.

Natalia and I were stunned, and compared notes. She said her instinct was not to publish anything beyond his answers to her poll questions. As far as I know, she has not. Since I was the only other Russian-language reporter there, the incident went unreported until I published it on April 1.

Given how newsworthy Nichushkin’s comments were, some have concluded that he could never have spoken like this without the world hearing about it almost immediately. This from Brandon Worley of the leading blog site devoted to the Stars: “I have to believe, in this day and age, that if Nichushkin had mentioned wanting to be traded I would have heard about it within about 15 minutes on Twitter.

“I have plenty of Russian followers who keep up with the news there, who are always alerting me to articles of note — and nothing ever came up of this sort. Once again, I’m not claiming this never happened — but I can’t find evidence of it.”

 But no one will hear about if the reporters on the scene don’t report it. Only a handful of NHL reporters across the whole league can speak Russian. Nichushkin was speaking before an audience of only two reporters, Natalia and me. The few other reporters in the area had no idea what Nichushkin was saying. It is exactly the same with other European players. I’ve been around Jagr, Michalek, Vrbata, et al. being interviewed in Czech, e.g., and only the same-language reporters are paying any attention. So, unless and until Natalia or I reported it, fans would never hear Valeri.

I resisted pressure from superiors to publish the revelations until I had a chance to ask Nichushkin for comment. So in Washington I reminded him that he had spoken out strongly against his coach, and asked if he had rethought things, if he felt he could still work with him. Nichushkin did not deny his outburst.

He simply cut off the conversation with a curt “Everything’s fine.” He did not say “I didn’t say that.” It would be rash indeed for him to deny what he said, given that he did so in the glare of the media zone. So this is not even a case of “he said, she said.”

Moreover, even if Nichushkin were to have denied my summary of the comments he made in Philadelphia, this would not have preempted my testimony. I am a witness.

For anyone perturbed by my bracketed notations coloring Nichushkin’s comments in the transcript of our exchange in Washington, I inserted them to convey my conviction that he was playing dumb as I queried him. “Nichushkin seemed to not have a clue what (Kerans) was talking about,” writes Brandon Worley.

But of course Nichushkin knew I was there in Philadelphia. In earlier conversations with me he never acted at all defensive or broke off. The reason seems readily apparent: he was in no position to deny the incident happened.

As regards Lindy Ruff’s benign comments on Nichushkin, which I included in the article, they don’t tell us much in any direction. Ruff certainly wasn’t present for the outburst in Philadelphia, and speaks no Russian in any case. Ruff is not obliged to divulge anything about his relationship with Nichushkin to me or any other reporter.

In closing, it is relevant to point out that I have published decades’ worth of academic, analytical, and journalistic work without any gossip, sensationalism, or slander. Nichushkin’s outburst was unmistakeable. The question before the house is how deeply seated his sentiments may be.

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