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Ex-Oiler beaks off from safety of Russian refuge

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Anton Belov can't cut it in the world's best hockey league -- and knows it.

But instead of admitting he's simply not up to the task, the former KHL defenceman is blaming Oilers head coach Dallas Eakin for his disastrous rookie season in the NHL.

It's now de rigueur in the NHL for underperforming players to blame the coach for their lack of productivity, once they have safely found a new foxhole from which to lob grenades.

Belov is the latest case in point. Given the opportunity to play more than 20 minutes per game during 12 of the Oilers' first 24 contests, he couldn't earn regular work on what was likely the league's worst blue-line. Good grief.

Now fleeing Edmonton to return to Russia after signing a lush, four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg, Belov told Russian reporters he was offered a deal to stay, but wouldn't return to play for Eakins. "I could have re-signed with Edmonton, but I didn't want to stay with that coach..."ã he proferred. What gutless tripe.

Oilers management sources say re-signing Belov was never a consideration after his dreadful campaign, which saw him get off just 54 shots in 57 games while scoring once and adding seven assists with a minus-12 rating.

Eakins took the high road Monday. "I can only say Anton was a great person and a pleasure to coach, and I wish him all the best with his young family and his career," said the former Jets defenceman.

The NHL requires defencemen to turn quickly, retrieve the puck and make fast decisions. Belov never adapted to this fundamental of North America's big league game and he became a liability on a liable blue line.

The 27-year-old's play regressed. He went from free-agent prize to healthy scratch in less than half a season. Now it's Eakins' fault?

There's nothing new about players not liking their coach -- hello Scotty Bowman -- but not until now have they regularly taken to skewering their boss from beyond range of retribution.

Last off-season it was Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski sniping at Leafs coach Randy Carlyle after they'd found new homes. Here in Winnipeg, Alex Burmistrov's former agent Mark Gandler told reporters his client would never again play for Claude Noel -- once a deal in the KHL had been offered.

None, however, had anything to say publicly when skating for the man each later revealed he despised.

Hockey players are supposed to be tough and most are. But players like Belov show the most guts when there's an ocean between themselves and their target. Sort of like spearing a guy in a scrum and then hiding behind a linesman.

It's a gutless move, to throw others under the bus in an attempt to cover for personal failures. It's the only well-executed move Belov has made in terms of his NHL experience.

The player himself doesn't believe his own words. They were blurted out in a panic when Belov returned home to Russia and was faced with the embarrassing questions about his failure in the NHL.

Now, he's embarrassed himself at home and abroad. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2014 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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