Perception vs. Reality
Coaching in the NHL is no different than any other profession. Differentiating perception from reality can sometimes be a difficult task.
In the case of how Ken Hitchcock deals with Russian-born players it appears the perception outweighs what’s real.
Most hockey fans are familiar with Nikita Filatov and the path his NHL career has taken. There’s no question he’s as skilled as any young player to come along in the last few years. The Columbus Blue Jackets took a leap of faith in making Filatov the sixth overall selection in the 2008 entry draft ahead of forwards such as Mikkel Boedker, Josh Bailey, Cody Hodgson, Jordan Eberle, and Tyler Ennis just to name a few. This doesn’t even include the D-men Filatov was taken ahead of including Erik Carlsson, John Carlson, Tyler Myers, and Michael Del Zotto.
We’ve seen this act before, whenever a player underachieves the first person we point the finger at is the Head Coach. We’ll often suggest certain coaches don’t like young players or even go as far as to say they can’t coach certain nationalities.
Hitchcock heard this in Columbus when Filatov elected to leave the organization and return to his native Russia. What people may not know is how things actually went down.
It was Hitchcock who tired to convince the young Filatov to stay and stick it out. Entering the 2009 season there was no guarantee he would make the roster and Hitchcock tells me he was given full say in making the decision. His final two exhibition games proved he belonged in the NHL.
“There was no pressure from management to keep Filatov, he flat out made the team and earned the right to play,” said Hitchcock.
Just a few games into the season Hitchcock got a knock on his door, it was his Captains telling him Filatov wanted to go home. Shortly thereafter Hitchcock sat down with the then 19 year-old and the two had a conversation.
“He said there’s not enough take home money,” said Hitchcock.
During the conversation Hitchcock did his best to try and convince the player to stay but to no avail. The kid had already made up his mind, he was returning to the KHL.
Actually Filatov did stick around for a few more games before jumping on a plane and finishing the season in the KHL.
Filatov would return to the NHL but by that time Hitchcock was no longer coaching in Columbus. The issues surrounding the player have continued to follow him over the years. This past year he played just nine games with the Ottawa Senators before leaving and returning to Russia once again. Things didn’t go much better in the KHL as Filatov was assigned to play in the second division (KHL’s version of the minors) for a period of time.
“If the player goes someplace else and has success then you have to look at yourself,” says Hitchcock.
This is only timely with the recent news of Russian standout Vladimir Tarasenko verbally committing to play next season with the Blues. I actually wrote about this this shortly after the Blues hired Hitchcock but felt it was good to address it one more time.The idea that Hitchcock doesn’t like or can’t coach Russian players is not only unfair but also untrue.
“Sergei Zubov is the best player I ever coached,” said Hitchcock.
Zubov played parts of six seasons under Hitchcock and had one of the more decorated careers of any Russian to play in the NHL. Several other Russian players thrived under Hitchcock including Danny Markov, Fedor Tyutin, Alexei Zhamnov, Dmitri Yushkevich, and Sergei Fedorov.
Nikolai Zherdev is another player with high end talent yet carries an iffy reputation. He only played one season under Hitchcock but put together his best NHL season with 26 goals and a career best 61 points.
It takes more than just talent to play in the NHL, Filatov being just one example. One AHL coach tells me he’s lights out in the American League and is the most talented player on the ice bar none. He went on to say”Nobody can blame any coach for Filatov, his personal flaws affect his personal performance.”
Many who have watched Tarasenko will tell you his game will translate fine in the NHL. He’s skilled but also determined and brings a level of work ethic that hopefully leads to a successful career. Hitchcock believes in order to play in the NHL you have to be competitive in one end or the other. If so you’ll find a role in the league.
“NHL people fall in love with determination not skill,” says Hitchcock.
It certainly helps if you have a little offensive flair to go with it but you have to take pride in being competitive. T.J. Oshie is an example of a skilled player who plays with a high compete level and is as good defensively as any young player in the NHL today. David Perron, although a different player than Oshie, is certainly competitive offensively and should continue to get better as a player.
This is a unique time for Blues fans with players like Ty Rattie, Jaden Schwartz, and Tarasenko on the way. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re Greek, Mediterranean, or from Argentenia, NHL coaches like players who play the right way. Most would gladly take a Russian over a bad Canadian or American any day of the week.
The NHLPA will hold player meetings at different locations this summer with Toronto, Chicago, and Kelowna, British Columbia being three of them.
Look for the Florida Panthers to explore the idea of trading D-man Jason Garrison’s rights before the draft if the two can’t agree on an extension.
If the suspension to Raffi Torres holds up he will be lose $21,000 per game next season.
Mike Richards is to the Los Angeles Kings to what Doug Gilmour was to the Calgary Flames in 1989. The Flames don’t win the Cup without Gilmour who made the team even more complete. Richards gave LA one more skilled, competitive player they were missing to help fill out the roster. The addition of Jeff Carter appears to have given them unstoppable depth. No Richards, no Cup.
Chris Stewart has already started working out with Matt Nichol of Bio-steel in Toronto. He’s skating and working out with a number of NHL players every day.
Some believe Barret Jackman could receive north of $4 million per year in free agency. With this possibly being his last chance at a big contract would he pass up the opportunity to cash in? Jackman has routinely said his decision won’t come down to just money.
The Blues are unlikely to bring back both Jackman and free agent Carlo Colaiacovo although the team has yet to shut the door on either player.
The free agent market defensively is less than exciting and when you consider there may be 20 teams chasing eight D-men the Blues will likely look to hold on to one of these two.
With the addition of Tarasenko the Blues appear to be in good shape offensively and may not need to add in free agency. They will look at re-signing Scott Nichol and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Former Peoria assistant coach and Alaska Head Coach Brent Thompson has been hired by the Islanders as an assistant. Good hockey man with a strong future.
Norfolk Head Coach and Former St. Louis Bandits coach Jon Cooper is up 2-0 over Toronto in the Calder Cup Finals. It won’t be long before he’s a Head Coach in the NHL.
More to come,
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