Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hitchcock Takes High Road on Filatov

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The head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets is under duress with the situation his team is in right now considering the NHL standings. With the team in town to face the equally struggling Edmonton Oilers, The Pipeline Show was on hand to follow up the story originally broken by Dean Millard earlier this week while covering the World Junior Championship in Saskatoon.

Today I asked coach Ken Hitchcock to comment on his relationship with Russian prospect Nikita Filatov and the comments the player made in regards to his future with the team. Unlike the player, Hitchcock was not willing to close the door on the situation and one could almost suggest he has extended an olive branch to the organization's top prospect.

If you're new to the story, you can read Dean's write up on Filatov (Photo: Getty Images/NHL.com) that has already been linked to from all over cyberspace and especially in circles of Blue Jackets fandom.

As for Hitchcock, I asked him to describe his relationship with the disgruntled Russian and this is what he had to say:
"It's good. He's learning... he's in the KHL right now. Like I've said before, I really wish he would have just hung in there. I know it was hard, it was really difficult for him and that it was a hard thing but I wish he just would have hung in there. I know it was probably frustrating for him because he probably wasn't seeing the ice that he wanted but I, like everybody else, just wished he would have hung in there so that we won't have to go through the learning curve again."
When I asked if he'd heard the comments that Filatov had made to Dean during the WJC, Hitchcock replied:
"I've heard some of them but..."
I gave him the basic recap - that Filatov said unless there were some changes in Columbus he would not return and that most believed he was referring to the coach. Hitch's response to that was simple.
"Well you'd have to take that up with the General Manager."
Another reporter joked and suggested that a player who was 9 years old when Hitchcock won the Stanley Cup in Dallas should "keep his mouth shut" but the coach deflected that with class.
"Oh I don't know... you go through that stuff, it's young people and... I think that if you talked to him today it might be a little different of an answer."
I did attempt to track down Columbus GM Scott Howson but he had already left the morning skate. He did appear on the TEAM 1260 in the afternoon during Oilers Lunch with Bob Stauffer and was asked to comment on the Filatov situation (Photo: Matt Manor HHOF-IIHF Images). Stauffer asked Howson to describe the upside of the player and how he views his long term situation with the organization.
"He was with us for the first month and a bit, wasn't playing a lot, came in and requested that he go back to Russia and play with CSKA Moscow, which is the organization that he grew up with. He feels that it's the second best league in the world and I'm not one to argue that, I haven't seen any KHL games but I know it's against men and it's a good league. We thought that was a good idea, he wasn't playing here and we knew that he'd end up in the World Juniors. He had difficult WJC, it was his third WJC... this year his team struggled and he struggled too a little bit and went through some adversity and hopefully he'll grow because of that."
"He's a dynamic player, certainly the most gifted prospect we have in our organization from an offensive point of view and we think he's going to have a bright career in the NHL. I can't tell you when that's going to be but I know that he's determined to have a really good career in the NHL - that's his goal but, for the rest of this year at least, he's going to be in the KHL."
So both the GM and the head coach refrain from saying anything negative about Filatov, a clear indication to me that they're not wanting to risk damaging the relationship any further. I wonder how Columbus fans feel about the whole situation though. If you're one, feel free to let us know.

4 comments:

rallen6469 said...

The organization needs talented young players of which Filatov is. There's no doubt Filatov is immature and using alternatives other players don't have (KHL). The fact of the matter is he does need to play and playing in the KHL is better suited to his development than the AHL.

Things could have been handled differently in Columbus this season and it's obvious Hitchcock and Filatov did not mesh, Hitchcock won the battle. But who really is winning in this contest between Hitchcock and Filatov-no one, in fact the organization is the loser if Filatov is lost.

Hitchcock is the key, with a slight change in his approach to young players so important to teams in the new NHL this issue could be solved and the Blue Jackets losing as well.

Guy Flaming said...

Queston: If Hitchcock changes his ways... what would CLB fans want him to alter in his style? And would doing so make him less successful than he has been in his overall career?

He's having a tough year, the whole team is, but he's the 10th winning-est coach in the NHL I believe. It's not like he doesn't know what it takes to win.

If he changes his style, wouldn't he cease to be the Ken Hitchcock that is so respected around the NHL?

rallen6469 said...

Guy,

Times change, those that cannot adapt to change fade away.

After the lockout two significant things happened that directly affected Hitchcock’s approach to hockey: 1. The CBA changed the free agency age, which resulted in the non-debatable need to play talented youth much younger than ever before. Hitchcock's winning staple during his glory days was veterans. 2. The league changed the rules, no longer can big players mug the fast and skilled players, another trait of Hitchcock's winning days.

Since 2004 Hitchcock's winning resume changed because he could not adapt to the new league.

Commentary: if you watched tonight's Calgary win the trap is decreasing and the open ice skating is increasing. Hitchcock may have been convinced by someone to change the approach or your tenure will short. If the old Hitch has been replaced with a new Hitch that’s as good as a new coach.

Hitchcock's pre 2004 resume is meaningless in today’s game.

Guy Flaming said...

Good stuff rallen6469, appreciate the comments.