When Dany Heatley arrived he was a blossoming star in the NHL with ample emotional baggage as a result of an off-ice incident resulting in the death of his friend and teammate.
We greeted him with open arms and were willing to give him a fresh start despite the horrific incident which pales in comparison to a small ruffling of feathers between a coach and player.
How is Filatov's arrival any different than Dany's?
To me, the difference is negligible. If we could embrace Dany by overlooking his faults and the uncertainties surrounding the health of his knee and an eye injury that sustained injury while playing in Switzerland, why are we treating Nikita any differently on the basis that he arrives as a media described malcontent with high end skill?
Is it because of his nationality? Has Ottawa become that disillusioned with foreigners (and newcomers) that we must poke and prod to see if this new kid in town is for real or just another incident waiting to happen?
Dany was able to duck a lot of questions because of criminal proceedings and had the PR backing to alleviate most concerns. I for one remember writing an email to the Team 1200 which was read on air listing the reasons I was happy Marian was gone and Dany was in. Not one of those reasons included his dark past.
I was able to overlook his past for his hockey abilities and the promise he brought to a contending team. I for one have always believed in cheering for the logo, not the nameplate. If Dany could make this team better, which he did, then who was I to judge his past when it had no bearing on his on-ice skills and ability to legitimize and improve the franchise? Nikita is no different to me. In fact, it may be a brighter scenario since a once fan favourite was not shipped out of town in exchange for his services. He comes as advertised as a high end player with the capacity for greatness and considering the lack of scoring depth I don't see why there is reason to belittle his arrival.
True, he is not going to win a Selke Trophy anytime soon but you don't train a thoroughbred to be a prop for tourists on a beach in Cancun. We know what we're getting and if everyone who enters the organization is subject to such unjust scrutiny for lack of abilities which were never as advertised, then I don't know what to say.
We’re acting like scorned lovers here. I sincerely hope the Ottawa faithful don't act this way on first dates. Just because a girl has a shitty dating history doesn't mean she won't find the right situation to be adored without that taint of past relationships.
Instead of praising Filatov for: a) leaving a family vacation in the Dominican Republic to attend development camp in which his presence was not required; or b) deftly navigating his way through media questions like he’s stickhandling through pylons the local media has been suspicious. Those in the know should recognize this familiar line of questioning as the Kovalev bait and lure method. It’s an Ottawa classic.
Thankfully, the way he delicately handled his first media scrum facing a line of fire only a Canadian hockey market can provide he didn’t bite at Don Brennan’s questions pertaining to the “state of his defensive game” or whether he “idolized Kovalev growing up”. Filatov said all the right things and even managed to generate some laughs. It’s for this reason that I believe that sometimes a hockey market is just what a high end player like Filatov needs to recharge or reaffirm his motivation to succeed. Maybe Filatov is the kind of player who needs to be put in the limelight before he can thrive under the microscope?
Some people crave that kind of attention. Look at all the big games pitched in Yankee Stadium (insert Colon jokes) and Fenway Park (Colon went 4-2 with his short stint with the Sox) over the years and maybe this is just what he needed. A change of scenery worked great for Chris Pronger in St. Louis and it has already looked promising for Craig Anderson. So I ask, why not Nikita?
I guess the public jury is still soured by Kovalev and who can blame them? He was by all accounts a terrible signing who fetched little to nothing in return by the time he was dumped. Let's not paint all Russians with the same brush - just because they share a similar heritage and offensive skill set does not immediately equate a disaster in the making.
We have players who can check, scrap and play defence. In fact you could say we have an overwhelming glut of players capable of fulfilling those roles. What we do not have is an abundance of Nikita Filatov's. We don't have (m)any young, NHL ready forwards with the pedigree of Nikita and I for one am truly excited about the potential he brings to the rink. He may not score 40 goals, he may not score 30 but then again he may score 50. Jason Spezza has worked miracles with lesser players (Bobby Butler, Colin Greening most recently). With that in mind I don't think it's unreasonable to assume he’ll be given every opportunity to thrive. And thrive he just may, if we don't run him out of town before he's had the opportunity to prove his worth.
As a rebuilding team that has a dearth of top six talent at the NHL-level, Ottawa can afford to give Filatov the opportunity with to play with some fast and skilled forwards without fear of seeing his ice-time diminish if he makes a mistake. Like he said in his first interview, the KHL provided him with the consistent ice-time that he needed to get his confidence back. With the Senators short on goal scoring he has as good a chance as any to see plenty of ice time to regain that swagger here. Maybe he was rushed in Columbus, maybe there was too much pressure and the coach accelerated frustration when the results didn't come as quickly as many thought. In Ottawa he will be given the chance to learn and by attending development camp, it shows he's willing to start from scratch.
By all accounts he’s no longer looking for a fresh start. He’s already found it.