As the cost to run a professional sports team inflates with each passing year, it seems like franchises are starting to warm up to the idea of making decisions based on logic rather than wild leaps of faith. It’s better for the collective blood pressure of their fan bases, but makes it less fun to ridicule bad decisions. For the sake of our collective entertainment, the NHL still has its fair share of exceptions, though.
The Ottawa Senators rank as one of the more amusing exceptions – unless you’re a fan of the team, of couse. During GM Bryan Murray’s time at the helm, the team mowed through five different coaches and lost several valuable players while rarely getting anything of value in return. Sometimes those mistakes weren’t totally Murray’s fault (Dany Heatley didn’t exactly make it easy to get fair value when he demanded a trade), but few could follow the logic of many other moves.*
In a way, it makes them a perfect match for Nikita Filatov, one of the most puzzling figures in recent draft years whom they traded for this off-season. The Columbus Blue Jackets essentially repeated history with Nikolay Zherdev when they drafted Filatov, as the right-handed Russian winger clashed with the Blue Jackets coaching staff, made an exodus to Russia and generally gave off a vibe of entitlement. (To be fair to Zherdev, he was far more productive at the NHL level than Filatov in his early days.)
It’s quite possible that the Blue Jackets deserve equal blame in his blunders – they have a horrible track record with first round draft picks not named Rick Nash, after all – but Filatov hasn’t done much to make them regret their supposed errors. He’s been especially underwhelming at the NHL level, scoring just six goals and seven assists for 13 points in 44 career games split over three seasons.
There’s nothing wrong with the Senators making a low-risk gamble that Filatov might turn things around, especially considering the Blue Jackets’ track record of developmental blunders. But of course, it could never be that simple. Dmitri Chesnokov passes along a report that Filatov claims Murray “promised” him a first or second line spot and time on the power play.
There are a few reasons why this is an interesting (and baffling) development. On one hand, it’s not that far fetched to imagine Filatov sliding into a top six forward role with Ottawa considering the Senators’ glaring lack of talent. It’s even conceivable that he might flourish in that role if he’s lucky enough to earn time with Jason Spezza, another much-derided player who happens to boast buckets of offensive talent.
That being said, it seems a bit odd (and almost anti-competitive) to promise Filatov a role before he even steps foot in training camp. It almost seems to embolden an attitude that he’s arrived already, which seems like the worst track to take with a player who is really nothing but potential right now.
Of course, there’s one possibility for the hasty promise: Filatov might consider going to the KHL instead. There are some rumblings about that being possible, but there’s nothing concrete at this time. We’ll keep an eye on this rather odd situation, but it all seems to add up to another reason why the Senators’ 20th season could be awfully ugly.
* – One of my favorites was the Chris Campoli trade. Murray sent Dean McAmmond and a first round pick to the New York Islanders for Campoli and Mike Comrie even though the Senators were clearly already out of reasonable playoff contention. The Senators ended up traded Campoli almost exactly two years later.