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.