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Saturday, January 9, 2010

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Nikita?

photo: guardian.co.uk photo: Shaun Best/Reuters (h/t sportsillustrated.cnn.com)

It seems Nikita Filatov - the Columbus Blue Jackets' wayward wunderkind - has been shooting his mouth off again about his treatment at the hands of Jackets' coach Ken Hitchcock. While his exact statement isn't clear, if the gist of the report is correct, it sounds as though young Filatov's return to Columbus will be preceded by a cold day in the Congo. Assuming that's the case, GM Scott Howson now finds himself with quite a dilemma: Fire Hitchcock, or trade Filatov?

Until the last two games (and Friday night's solid W over Calgary in particular), the answer would've been clear: Call Hitch into the office and give him the old "the club is moving in a different direction" speech. With the losing streak over, and with the team looking (in Calgary) like last season's playoff-bound Blue Jackets, it appears as though the players are responding to their coach and the ship is being righted. Thus, replacing the coach would seem to be a much less attractive option at this point.

On the other hand, Nikita Filatov seems to have "future NHL superstar" written all over him. He recorded his first (and only, so far) NHL hat-trick at the age of eighteen. After scoring two goals while averaging just over eight minutes of ice time in 13 games this season, Filatov returned to Mother Russia...where he put up 5-9-14 in his first 12 games, while averaging over 17 minutes per game. This kid is The Real Deal. He's said repeatedly that he wants to play in the NHL, but that's the key: he wants to PLAY in the NHL, not ride the pine with fourth-line minutes or eat pretzels in the press box. If Filatov won't play hockey The Hitchcock Way, however, fourth-line minutes is all he'll get...and he's made it clear that he won't do that any longer. What's a GM to do?

Undoubtedly, many other clubs with coaches NOT named Hitchcock would love to have Filatov on their second or third lines, and there are several situations in which the kid could thrive. Atlanta would seem to be a perfect fit, with coach John Anderson's run-and-gun offense and back-checking exemptions for Russian-born superstars. Another advantage of sending Filatov to the Thrashers is the fact that they're not in the same conference. The question, then, is: What can the Blue Jackets get in return?

*Big Tex dons his "Mad Hockey Scientist" fedora*

Columbus continues to search for a Grade A puck-moving defenseman, and Atlanta has a few to choose from: Tobias Enstrom, Zack Bogosian and Pavel Kubina. While the Thrashers might part with Kubina easier due to his age (32), the Blue Jackets would be much better served by acquiring either Enstrom or Bogosian for Filatov. Would Atlanta GM Don Waddell part with either of his young star d-men for the enigmatic Nikita Filatov? If he can't re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk, then this trade looks much better from Atlanta's perspective.

Realistically, however, Howson will take his sweet time before acting. After all, he's under no pressure to move Filatov NOW. On the other hand, if the Blue Jackets' play during the last two games proves to be a fluke, rather than the beginning of a trend, Howson will have to replace Ken Hitchcock. Should that come to pass, Filatov might very well skate for the Blue Jackets next season. At this point, only one thing is certain: If Hitchcock stays, Filatov must go...and vice versa.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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