If someone ever tells you that professional athletes do not watch the news or do not read the newspapers, do not believe them. Although you very rarely hear players discuss anything that was said about them in the media these days, it is very clear that many still pay very close attention to every time their names are mentioned publicly and this is just one more example of that.
In a recent interview with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, an interview that was conducted in Russian, the Leafs blue liner went off on one of the most recognizable and one of the most well respected personalities in the game today. Zaitsev absolutely unloaded on former National Hockey League head coach and current star of Coach's Corner Don Cherry and to be fair to Zaitsev here his comments were not made without provocation. Zaitsev was discussing the unique challenges and pressures that come with playing in a city like Toronto, of which he admitted there were plenty of unpleasant examples for, but he saved the majority of his vitriol for Don Cherry himself.
“Everyone (in the market) said that the defence of Toronto was shit,” said Zaitsev as per The Athletic. “Everybody wanted (Jake) Muzzin. But he began to (be) smeared the next day. You just need to understand that this is Toronto. You will be defrauded because you are a defender.”
“I’m amused that clowns like Cherry have a very big emphasis in our country as real experts,” Zaitsev is quoted as saying. “(What he says) will immediately be on the websites, as if this is a serious person of some kind.”
Those are some pretty harsh words for Cherry to be sure, much harsher than you normally would ever hear from a contracted NHL player. As I said before though Zaitsev's comments did not come out of nowhere, and in fact he seemed to be responding to a very particular insult from Cherry earlier in the season. At the time Cherry had flat out stated that Zaitsev did not even deserve to be called a defenseman, pretty harsh criticism in its own right.
“I’m telling you, everybody’s on Muzzin… watch [Nikita] Zaitsev. He doesn’t know how to play,” Cherry said as per Sportsnet earlier in the season. “You know what he is? You know what Zaitsev is? He was minus last year, he was minus the year before, he was minus in the playoffs. You know what he is? He’s a forward playing defence. And somehow or other, Muzzin is the guy they’re blaming.
“Remember, Muzzin was the best player in L.A.,” Cherry continued. “He comes here and he’s having a tough time? He’s having a tough time because he’s playing with that guy. Zaitsev is not a defenceman.”
Here's to hoping Cherry catches wind of these comments from the soon to be former Maple Leafs and gets his chance to respond during one of his usual segments on Coach's Corner. Something tells me this issue may be old news by the time Cherry gets to respond, but I would love to see it nonetheless.