Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Little Nikita

[Note: No fooling - I was working up this graphic when the Puck Rakers post on Wright's trip to Russia hit the web and was about halfway through this post when I actually read it.  Talk about coincidence!  Perhaps I should have put Tyler Wright's face in the poster instead of Arniel's?]

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.  
Now, Scott Howson is apparently on the prowl for an upgrade to the CBJ blue line (YAY!) and is willing to dangle Filatov out there as a potential carrot.  The current dialogue, which doesn't seem to be moving quickly, suggests that Little Nikita could be traded for Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa.  Because Vancouver has a couple of months to make up their minds on what to do with their glut of defensemen, I won't call this a dead deal...and some Vancouver fans are practically salivating over the idea of getting Filatov on the 'Nucks:
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.

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.
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?)  

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:

  1. 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.
  2. If Hitchcock was the problem, Arniel deserves a chance to be the solution.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.
  6. If he wants to be in Columbus and can prove that he belongs on the roster, line him up and set him loose.  
  7. 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?

4 comments:

  1. Filatovs upside is too high and his trade value has taken a hit with all the drama he has created for himself.. I say we need to give the kid a chance under Arniel.. Filatov just needs to mature.. Hitch was partially to blame as well.

    EPLightthelamp

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  2. Filatov should stay at least through this season. Yes he's a valuable asset for trade, but he can also be very valuable with CBJ. It is foolish to just let him go without seeing what we have. I think the same thing would go for Nash, Brassard, and Voracek; these guys should be the core of the Jackets for a while to come, and should not be moved except for an excellent return.

    Back on point: to be fair, I don't think all Columbus fans have been "burnt" by Filatov, as you suggest. Rather, I think some of us were burned by the nonsensical comments coming from Hitch near the end of his coaching. He often suggested that the young guys need fewer minutes, and on a team of youth (yes, last year too) that was a stupid statement.

    Clearly Filatov sprinting for Russia doesn't look good, but considering the non-chance he was offered (he simply cannot play with 3rd or 4th liners - that isn't even close to his play style), I don't really blame him. I think getting a hungry Filatov on the second line is one of the most important things that CBJ can do this year.

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  3. Niki didn't put forth the effort needed or required, and the coach at the time didn.t trust him to give him more ice time to prove himself. That's usually the way it works when you never had to work for your spot on the team. NOW, let's see if anyone learned anything???

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  4. Dark Blue JacketJuly 6, 2010 at 9:40 PM

    Excellent comments, all.

    Zekebud - Excellent parsing of my use of the word "burnt". I'll still suggest that a player who abandons his team...and his team's fans...mid-season pretty much left us "burnt", but I agree that Hitch had a lot to do with it. Arniel got it right - Filatov DOES have to mend some fences. One way to do so is to be a productive contributor to a winning team...as winning cures a number of ills. But it's going to take a little time.

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