Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

11/17/2009

Nikita Filatov: “So long stinktown!” (Update)

Filed under: Columbus Blue Jackets,Ken Hitchcock,Nikita Filatov,Russia — Joe Yerdon @ 3:04 AM

Aaron Portzline from the Columbus Dispatch dropped a (predictable) bomb on Blue Jackets fans and curious NHL onlookers tonight revealing that young and über-talented Russian forward Nikita Filatov is working out an agreement to head back to Russia.

Jackets general manager Scott Howson would not comment on a potential agreement allowing the 19-year-old Filatov to return to his former club team, CSKA Moscow. Nothing has been finalized, however, and Filatov and the Blue Jackets are expected to talk again today about the possibility of staying in Columbus.

To say this has been a bit of an ugly situation in Columbus would be downplaying things a bit.  Filatov has been unhappy with his ice time this year and he’s been a healthy scratch more often than not lately.  When he has been in the lineup for the BJs, Filatov has averaged a little over 8 minutes a game and has played with the fourth line.  That’s no way to treat a highly touted, highly talented 19 year-old future star.

Filatov made it known in the off-season that his plans were to stay in Columbus all year and get things done in the NHL at the age of 19.  From that interview with Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov, a couple of things stand out:

I have been working very hard this summer. Nothing should stand in the way of me getting into the NHL. Ideally, I have to break into the second line where there is more ice time; you play more on special teams.

And this:

What is holding you in America?

When I was 18 I made a decision to play in the NHL. This decision did not come easy. But what is the point of backing off now? It would make more sense if I didn’t play well. But everything is going good for me right now across the ocean.

If he’s heading off to Russia, things have changed dramatically with Filatov and it’s head coach Ken Hitchcock that has to be the focus of everything here.  Filatov, to say the least, is a natural born scorer and a guy whom the word “defense” will never apply to, at least at his age now.  That won’t (and hasn’t) sit well with the uptight Hitchcock who wants his team to play a lockdown brand of hockey ripe with back-checking and grinding galore.

filatovNikita Filatov in a Russian uniform.  Get used to it.

Filatov is a sniper, a dangler, a goalie faker.  He was drafted two years ago (6th overall 2008 NHL Draft) for his sheer offensive ability and talents, something Columbus was severely lacking in their system but now the team, with Hitchcock’s ideal lineup in there is off to the best start in franchise history and Filatov basically hasn’t had a hand in any of that whatsoever and his growth is being stunted because of it.

Sending him back to Syracuse to play wouldn’t do any good because he’s already proven his talent is being wasted after racking up 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in 39 games there last year.  What more does he have to prove to the Blue Jackets?  According to what some folks around the team are saying, Ken Hitchcock isn’t satisfied with that.  Just a few weeks ago, Hitchcock had this to say about Filatov’s game:

“I don’t think Filatov’s game is going to be awake for a long time. He’s in that adjustment phase right now, that survival phase.  He did his job when he got back in the lineup in Edmonton. That’s why he played again Saturday (in Anaheim).  All the things we wanted him to do to be an NHL player, he’s tried like crazy to do them. He’s in the lineup now, so hopefully we’re off and running.”

Apparently he is off and running… Back home to Russia where he can play more than eight minutes a game with guys who might be better than Jared Boll and Mike Blunden (ed. note: Who the fuck is Mike Blunden?).  OK so after looking at the translated CSKA Moscow roster, perhaps playing at home for more ice time is a better draw than the teammates.  Maybe Filatov got to be a big fan of Mark Hartigan’s while playing in the AHL.  Whatever.

The key here is that yet another highly talented offensive Russian first-round pick of the Blue Jackets is now ready to get the hell out of the NHL (Nikolai Zherdev being the first) and while a lot people seem to agree that Filatov is both mentally stronger and more talented than Zherdev, it’s a bit surprising (and disturbing) that one organization has screwed the pooch twice with how to handle a talented Russian forward.

While blame can be assigned to both Zherdev and Columbus management equally and finger-pointing can go on forever for that situation and failure, the case with Filatov can be thrown squarely on Ken Hitchcock for why Filatov has been buried and now, apparently, frustrated off to Russia.  Hitchcock is firmly a part of the “No fun police” as far as offensive talent goes.  His teams are classically boring even in spite of often having supreme top-end talent All you have to do is look back to Mike Modano and Brett Hull in Dallas, Jeremy Roenick and Simon Gagne in Philadelphia and now Rick Nash in Columbus.  His teams in all three places are loaded with grinders and they forecheck and trap in a suffocating way, so having a naturally offensively talented dangler isn’t an optimum piece of the puzzle – especially one that just wants to fire shots on the net.

Handling older veterans is one thing, but trying to hammer it home to a young kid that shooting and scoring all the time isn’t what the game is all about… Well, you can see how that would get to be very frustrating, especially when the team drafted you to do just that.

Filatov is going to be a dynamic scorer in the NHL but he’s got to be on the right team to make it happen and right now with everything clicking well enough for Columbus and the brand of hockey they want to play, it’s pretty clear that Filatov isn’t in Hitchcock’s plans, something that doesn’t sit well with Columbus’ general manager Scott Howson doesn’t like at all.  I mean he did draft him and he knows what kind of player he can be in the league and he doesn’t want to just give him away to another team and be haunted into unemployment because of it.  Howson also doesn’t want the player getting eternally frustrated at the coach and organization and vow to never play for them ever again.

At least there’s this whole peaceful KHL/NHL situation where they’ve got a great working agreement to loan players to one another.  Oh, right… I forgot that exists only in Bizarro World where Herr Bettman is a brilliant leader and the NHL is the most beloved sports product in the world and provides the greatest financial system for all professional sports across the land.

My bad.

If Filatov does go to Russia, you can bank on it that he’s going to stay there until he’s either traded, Ken Hitchcock is out of a job or until his entry level deal ends after the 2011-2012 season… After which there might be another sport-crippling lockout and everyone plays in Europe instead anyway.  At least that last possibility won’t be nearly as much of a disaster to watch as the movie 2012.

We’ll get to know more about what, exactly, is going on here soon and keeping your eyes peeled on Yahoo’s Puck Daddy will be recommended as resident Russian go-to-guy Dmitry Chesnokov will be on the case and he’s stated he’s already gotten in touch with Filatov.  What I expect to hear is that he’s beyond frustrated and he wants to play and getting the hell out of Columbus offers him the best and most enjoyable set of circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets would rather he either stick it out in the NHL and learn the hard way or go back to Syracuse to skate circles around the competition.  If those are the options he goes with, the Blue Jackets run the risk of driving Filatov crazy and filling him with resentment and then they’ve got an immensely talented player that no longer wants to play for them and can’t wait to get the hell out of town.

While the Blue Jackets might be winning, they have to be careful here because this could turn into a lose/lose situation for the organization.   They’ll lose out on a great talent and they’ll also salt the earth for future young Russian players they may be interested in.  If the Blue Jackets want to truly be thinking long-term in regard to Nikita Filatov, they’d best be thinking long term about the future of the team as well.

UPDATE:

It’s now official, Nikita Filatov is headed back to Russia to play the rest of the season out, and like I told you kids, Dmitry Chesnokov is all over it getting the first interview with him at Puck Daddy.  I won’t pull out all of Filatov’s quotes and over-analyze them but I’ll yank out this set because it strikes me as amazing.

What did the club management tell you when you told them of your decision and your reasons for it?

They told me that they completely share my point of view. They also told me that in the current situation it is actually better for me to go back.

If things go sour with Columbus this year and they find a way to miss out on the playoffs, you better believe that GM Scott Howson will have more than enough ammunition to use against Hitchcock just based around this situation with Filatov.

10/19/2009

Armchair GM: Cutting Up Jackets and Feasting on Wings

A Sunday without NHL hockey is getting to be a bit old, two straight weeks without Sunday games makes Joe a dull boy.  Rather it makes me one that has to focus far too much on the NFL and when you’re a Detroit Lions fan there’s better things to do.

So rather than go into hiding and pretend like my efforts to take down the Western Conference elite of Sports Blog Nation are going all for naught, here I am to go and toot my own horn and pick out some MVPs and some players I’m going to put on notice.

Results from Week 1 vs. The Cannon

fantasy1

While it was just an 8-5 victory, my goaltending chomped on the tailpipe much in thanks to Josh Harding of the Wild getting bombed on and Ray Emery falling from his high horse after earning a shutout in his first start.  Marty Turco was steady but uninspiring from a fantasy standpoint.

Offensively, Drew Doughty was my main man providing tremendous value for a late-round selection tallying a goal and four assists during the first week of play.  James Neal of the Stars carried the goal scoring trophy for the team nailing down three goals.  Brendan Morrow added two goals and three assists and Sidney Crosby showed why it was awesome that he fell into my lap at fourth overall scoring four goals including a game winner.

Who’s on notice after the first week?  Alex Tanguay who scored just one assist (granted it was on the power play) and landing only three shots on goal.  Paul Martin of the Devils finds himself on the hot seat as well tabulating just one shot on goal, an even +/- rating  and one assist (also on the power play).  Josh Harding in his one start for the week managed to earn a 6.01 GAA and a .739 save percentage with only 17 saves.  Ouch babe.

The Cannons were lead by Evgeni Malkin (2g 5a 16 PIM 12 sog) and Alex Burrows (3g 1a 6PIM 23 sog).  Steve Mason and Cam Ward carried the goaltending efforts earning two wins a piece and putting up mostly nice GAA and save percent numbers while seeing a ton of action in the first week.

All in all, a very pleasing effort for the Frontiersmen but that goaltending has to get better.

Results from Week 2 vs. Winging It In Motown

fantasy2

The trend keeps on keepin’ on.  Another eight victories and only losing out on four against the Red Wings laden squad.  This is when it’s fun to not be a homer.  No, not Tomas Holmstrom.

Since you didn’t get to see how the squads shaped up before, here’s the comparison (click to enlarge).

fantasy2a

As you can see, there was one transaction made by me.  Josh Harding got the boot already in favor of Scott Clemmensen.  Harding has been lit up in two starts for Minnesota and well, if I’m going to have a backup goalie that starts occasionally, I’d prefer it to be a guy who doesn’t have an astronomical goals against average and a minuscule save percentage.  Call me old fashioned.  As it stood, the only thing I struck out on this time were wins.  Turco had a stellar week including a shutout and Emery, while mediocre, wasn’t overly brutal in his one start.

Offensively, the Frontiersmen were beastly although they enjoy the company of the minus rating.  Alfredsson, Knuble and Neal all ponied up the assists and Brendan Morrow did the heavy lifting with the goal scoring.  You really can’t complain when you get consistent offensive work like that each week.  What I can complain about is how miserable Alex Tanguay is.  I know the offense in Tampa Bay is struggling (as will happen when you basically have one scoring line and nothing else) but tallying zero points and a -3 for the week is a good way to end up on a fantasy managers bad side… Especially when you have one of his other teammates setting up at center for you.

Vinny Lecavalier has yet to score a goal and while the three assists this past week were nice, the -4 is a mega kick in the nuts.  Vinny will get his goals eventually, but the pain of his lack of success is being felt in places other than central Florida.  This isn’t to say that Vinny is officially on notice, but it’s just plain old frustrating.

Who is on notice?  Paul Martin of the Devils.   Zeroes across the board and three shots on goal.  At least get kicked out of a game or something man.  Defensemen are thin pickings in the league as it is, but its frustrating to not get anything from a guy that is getting enough playing time to make things happen.

That said, the whining ends there.  +/- is a bit of a crap-shoot category and it can fluctuate from week to week so there’s no real use in trying to plan against that, especially when you can get a lot more out of every single other category possible by playing a guy any given night.  I would like to see the goal scoring pick up though.  You hear me Vinny?

This week I will have my duel with Nathan from Hockey Wilderness, one of a handful of in-house throwdowns.  After reminding Nathan about his team, suffice to say he hates his Yahoo auto-drafted squad.  I’m not about to start counting wins here, but confidence is running high.  Nathan’s “State of Mediocre” pulled a rather Wild-like showing this past week getting shutout by Defending Big D 11-0.

Oh yes, confidence is VERY high.

10/04/2009

Armchair GM: Week One

Filed under: Columbus Blue Jackets,Fantasy Hockey — Joe Yerdon @ 8:08 PM

This is a look at my first week fantasy match-up in the SBN Invitational Fantasy Hockey League where yours truly under the guise of being a part-time Minnesota Wild blogger gets to taken on the elite members of SBN’s Western Conference.  I’ll be making this a weekly feature here and will keep mentioning this until you all get the hint.

This week’s match-up runs from October 1-10th thanks to the Thursday start of the season.  As I teased you all last time when I previewed the season and showed off my team, the link I provided to you to check out the league is not so helpful to those of you who aren’t in the league.

My bad.

This week my opponent are the folks from The Cannon, the Columbus Blue Jackets blog.

hockeywilderness-largethecannon

These results are through this weekend’s games and since there were none today, that makes things relatively even… I guess.  The competition between Wild Frontiersmen and Columbus Cannons goes until Saturday’s games.  How do the teams stack up?  Click on the photo to enlarge it and see what the teams look like without straining your eyes.

fantasy1a

Whod’ve thunk it that Ray Emery would be helping me in the goaltending so nicely?  Same for Marty Turco.  Going up against the Cannons with Ward and necessary homer pick Steve Mason is a tall order to say the least but the Bruins helped rough up Cam Ward well on Saturday night making his road to recovery the rest of the week a bit more difficult.

The Cannons are well represented with Blue Jackets and may be the most homeriffic team in the league, but when those guys are Derrick Brassard and Nikita Filatov and Steve Mason… That’s not so bad.  Outside of that though, the offense isn’t particularly terrifying to me from a fantasy standpoint.  After all, Mark Recchi hasn’t been a good pick in fantasy hockey since 2000.  Matt Stajan had a great first game for the Maple Leafs.  The Cannons are loaded on defense but, unlike in the real NHL, defense doesn’t win championships.

As for my merry band of secret lovers, Sid the Kid has done his thing reasonably well and I shake my fist at his shootout-winning goal against the Islanders not counting as a game-winning goal for fantasy purposes.  That would’ve made for a nice bonus.  Speaking of nice bonuses, how about that James Neal in Dallas?  He impressed me last year and got out of the gates fast Saturday night scoring both regulation goals in Dallas’ 3-2 shootout loss against Nashville.

I’ll also allow myself a little time to pat myself on the back for picking Drew Doughty, even though he may end up being a minus machine for me, notching a goal and an assist in the Kings’ 6-3 loss to Phoenix on Saturday night does this Armchair GM proud for a day.

What will I kick myself for?  Not putting a little more faith in Dan Cleary or Brendan Morrison on Saturday but with all teams playing, sacrifices had to be made.  We’ll see if this costs me a point in the goals category this week as both Cleary and Morrison notched goals on Saturday.

As for what to expect for the rest of the week… Like I know?!  It’s the first week of the season so having any expectations at all is silly, but let’s just hope things keep on… keep on truckin’ right now because this is a nice start.  I’ll wrap things up next weekend with a recap of the contest and a preview of next week’s fantasy face-off with the Detroit Red Wings bloggers at  Wingin’ It In Motown.

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