Very troubling news from the Dispatch this morning. As always, the first thing I open up in my browser in the morning is Puck-rakers, the dispatch CBJ blog. I read the game recap, then I scrolled down and got a sick feeling in my stomach when I read Filatov Returning to Russia?
Rookie Nikita Filatov, who has struggled to remain in coach Ken Hitchcock’s lineup, might be headed back to Russia, perhaps as soon as this week, according to sources within and beyond the NHL.
There is always the risk of a Russian player returning home if he's unhappy. That said, I have thought all along since Nik was drafted that he truly felt different about the NHL. He wanted nothing more than to play in the best league in the world, and he gave the impression that he knew what was required of him to earn a full time NHL job. It would seem that at about the quarter point of his first full NHL season that he is fed up with trying to convince coach Ken Hithcock that he can nail down a top-six job.
I'm certainly not one of those blind fans who live by the creed "In Hitch we trust". No, not at all, but I do however think he's a fantastic coach, a great tactician. I do however have an issue with how he is using Filatov. It seems like as soon as Nik starts to get into his groove, he is stapled to the bench. There is clearly a lack of trust between coach and player here, and it seems to have somewhat angered GM Scott Howson, as evidenced by this quote in the Dispatch blog post:
It’s believed the handling of Filatov, a highly-skilled, but small winger, has become a contentious issue between Hitchcock and Howson, the man who drafted him.
Not good at all. For a team like Columbus that does anything but light the lamp often, Nik is the kind of elite-level talent that needs to be groomed in-house. Not loaned to a Russian squad for a year, with the hopes of him returning. Let's be honest, the situation will probably be awesome for him over there, he'd get a ton of icetime with CSKA, he'd be the captain of the Russian World Junior Team, and who knows, he may even be a member of the Olympic squad. If all of this takes place, do you think he would want to return to Hitchcock and proving himself every night? Contract be damned, he could pull a Radulov. If this did take place, it would be catastrophic for NHL-KHL relations. They recently had a summit to discuss league issues, at the forefront was the issue of honoring contracts. Thus far, Radulov as been the poster boy for bailing on an NHL contract to sign with the KHL. Hopefully Nik isn't the next one. The report does say however, that the understanding would be that Nik would return to Columbus after this season.
I think we all know that a player has to earn his spot on a team. Nik knows that too, but it's got to be supremely frutrating when you aren't even given the chance to prove yourself. Sometimes the best way to get the most out of somebody, not just in sports, is to keep picking them up and throwing them back in the fight. They will make mistakes, take their licks, but they are learning from it. Last game, Nik played very well until he got a little panicky in his own zone, leading to a handful of turnovers. To be fair, it was at the end of a long shift, of a tough game, and he was working solo in the defensive zone. That would be intimidating for any young player. Instead of giving him the obvious talking-to about avoiding turnovers and sending him back out next game, he was scratched from the lineup. How are you going to prove to have learned from your mistakes if you are sitting in a suit in the press box?
I don't believe that Nik is a primma-donna. A player you need to give more attention in the hopes of keeping him happy. I just think this is a player who knows he has the talent to contribute, but is getting frustrated with the lack of opportunities he is being given to prove himself.
Guys in the room have been talking to him, here's hoping that they can convince him to gut it out, and that Hitch can start utilizing him more.
At least one teammate has encouraged Filatov to give the situation more time before making a decision, a source said.
He will be a star in this league, it would be sickening for him to reach that point with another team. Hang in there Nik!
EDIT: Nikita Filatov has officially been loaned to CSKA Moscow of the KHL. The Jackets and CSKA have agreed to a one-year loan agreement, with the expectation that Filatov will be back in Columbus in time for next year's training camp.
I'm sure more of this story will come out, so until then I will reserve judgement, but from a fan standpoint I'm pissed. It's a damned shame that something couldn't have been worked out for this season. He won't be any far ahead with the Jackets next year, he will still have to earn his spot.
I'm optimistic that Nik hasnt played his last game as a Jacket.