With the Columbus Blue Jackets coaching search complete, the entry draft finalized, development camp out of the way and the prime days of free agency behind us, I daresay it's time to consider other major offseason drama in the summer of 2010 (sorry Jared Boll and Anton Stralman, your filing for salary arbitration doesn't quite make the cut): Little Nikita.
Yup, our petulant Russian wunderkind is back in the headlines. (Honestly now, did he ever leave?) Before we really get rolling, let's recall that Filatov is on record as telling the Dispatch in April - pretty unequivocably - that he intends to be in Columbus for training camp in August:
"Yes, I'm sure I'll come for training camp," Filatov said. ... "The coaching change doesn't mean much for me," Filatov said. "Anyway, I was going to be back. When I left (in November), I said I was coming back, and that was no matter who the coach will be."
Now to recap the more recent news of note:
- After praising Filatov's playing ability in an interview with the Dispatch after his introductory press conference ("You know what? I love those kind of talents."), new head coach Scott Arniel not-so-subtly laid down the law as it relates to Filatov rejoining the CBJ for 2010-2011 in saying (emphasis added), "Certainly, (Filatov) has some work to do himself. Probably to start with, his teammates. That's a conversation we'll have. He has to recognize that if he wants to be an NHL player, and he wants to do well here, he has to buy into what everybody else is doing. His skill set gives you things that other guys can't give you. We're not trying to hinder or hold anybody back, but we need everybody on the same page. If we need a goal late in a game, we need to be able to trust him enough to play him in those situations. That's part of his growth that he has to work on. I'm looking forward to meeting him one on one."
- CBJ player development coach and triathlete-designee Tyler Wright was scheduled to go to Russia to spend a few days with Filatov - to ascertain his current skill and conditioning level and also to try to figure out what's going on in the young man's noggin. Visa problems have delayed the visit, but Wright is now underway.
- Filatov's friend, Kiril Kabanov, hedges when asked if he thinks Filatov is returning to the CBJ.
- And, in perhaps the strangest public relations move (or one of the better pranks - but not the first!), Filatov apparently has a Formspring account. Formspring, for those who don't know, is a free web service that facilitates open questions and answers between the public and the account holder.
Filatov is only a year removed from being named The Hockey News‘ #1-ranked prospect (ahead of Hodgson, who went #2). As a Russian sniper with speed, excellent vision, and finish, Filatov isn’t quite cut from the same mold as an Alex Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk, but he’s not far behind. With the appropriate amount of playing time and chances, Filatov will be a superstar in the NHL. It’s just a matter of where and when.I guess the rest of the league is still high on the kid, even though we in Columbus have already been burnt. (Or was Filatov the canary in the coal mine, getting out of town before the Blue Jackets ship of 2009-2010 totally sunk? And, if that's the case, can you blame him for not hanging around?)
From the Blue Jackets’ standpoint, yes, the team could certainly use an offensively-skilled defenceman. ... Bieksa is the kind of defenceman who can be relied upon to contribute solid minutes as a second-pairing blueliner, but by no means is a franchise player, and certainly not one who should be traded for an elite Russian prospect, however much of a headcase he may or may not be.
As a Canucks fan, I would love to see this trade happen. The problem is I just don’t want to get my hopes up. This is the kind of trade that only happens in the wildest of fantasies. The trade value of the two players is not even close.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure in the coming days we’ll learn more about this trade possibility, but in the meantime, it’s nice to dream.
So the question at hand is what to do with Little Nikita. Matt Wagner offers up a handful of very plausible scenarios - both on what Tyler Wright will drop himself into in Moscow as well as what Scott Howson and the Columbus Blue Jackets should do with Filatov. It's a strong article and worth a read.
My feelings are as follows:
- Outside of Rick Nash (who is asked to do much, much more than shoot), the Jackets don't have a pure shooter of Filatov's caliber. That alone makes it real hard to send him on his way.
- If Hitchcock was the problem, Arniel deserves a chance to be the solution.
- For a $2.2 million cap hit, you probably won't get much better. I'd almost guarantee that you won't find an upside as huge as Filly's for that price.
- The onus really is on Filatov, and Arniel said it best. Nikita has to get right by the locker room and then can take his place on the roster.
- If Filatov doesn't want to be in Columbus (despite what his Formspring account says), ship him out and get a good defenseman or two for him. Despite all the goofiness that has happened since last season commenced, he's still a somewhat valuable asset.
- If he wants to be in Columbus and can prove that he belongs on the roster, line him up and set him loose.
- Lastly, I honestly believe he would be gone by now had he approached anything close to a positive Junior World Championship experience. I don't think Scott Howson is hell-bent on keeping him in Columbus...Howson is too pragmatic for that type of thinking.
What do you think? Should Filatov stay or go? And if he goes, when do you cut the cord...and for what?