Lost in all the hype of signing free agents Joel Perrault, Manny Malhotra, Jeff Tambellini, and Dan Hamhuis is the recent rumour which has Vancouver Canucks fans nearly wetting themselves.
With the Canucks blueline looking deeper than the grave Darryl Sutter has dug for the Calgary Flames, many fans would love nothing more than to see much-maligned defenceman Kevin Bieksa traded for whatever they can get.
But the return Canucks fans didn’t expect to hear in the rumour mill was an elite-level prospect.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch hinted on July 1st that the Columbus Blue Jackets are targeting a puckmoving defenceman with offensive capabilities and have Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa in their crosshairs. This is what he had to say:
The Dispatch has confirmed late Thursday that Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson and Canucks GM Mike Gillis have had preliminary discussions about a trade that would send one of Vancouver’s mobile defensemen to Columbus.
The Canucks now have a slew of defensemen after acquiring defenseman Keith Ballard in a trade at the NHL entry draft and after signing free agent Dan Hamhuis to a long-term contract on Thursday.
The most likely to move is Bieksa, a 29-year old with a right shot who is a 10-12 goal, 35-40 point player when he’s healthy. Bieksa attended Bowling Green State University from 2000-01 to 2003-04, and has been an NHL fixture with the Canucks the last four seasons. His contract also doesn’t include a no-trade clause.
He would know Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel from training camps in Vancouver and the odd injury rehab in Manitoba, the Canucks top minor league affiliate. But Bieksa’s name has surfaced many times in Columbus the last several seasons.
No deal is imminent, and it remains to be seen what the Blue Jackets would send toward Vancouver to swing the deal. But left winger Nikita Filatov is a definite possibility, sources told The Dispatch.
Filatov, a 20-year-old winger who has twice played for Russia in the World Junior Championships (13 games played, 9 goals and 8 assists) was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008 at sixth overall, four spots ahead of the current top Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson, who went tenth overall. Since his draft, Filatov has spent time with the Blue Jackets (6 goals, including a hat trick, in 21 games), the Syracuse Crunch (16 goals, 32 points) as well as his CSKA Moscow squad last year after being loaned from Columbus.
Unfortunately for Filatov, the start of his NHL career didn’t go as smoothly as hoped. Under the coaching guidance from Ken Hitchcock, a noted tough guy when it comes to giving rookies playing time, Filatov wasn’t utilized to his full potential, getting anywhere from five to eight minutes a game last season. Fed up with his lack of playing time, Filatov was promptly loaned to his CSKA team for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. Hitchcock was fired three months later.
The decision to send Filatov packing to the KHL drew the ire of many Columbus fans, who feared what happened to former top Russian prospect Nikolai Zherdev would happen to Filatov.
Perhaps then, it may seem understandable as to why Filatov could be on the block.
But Filatov has insisted on a number of occasions he wants nothing more than to play in North America, specifically in the NHL. He promised to return in August with the intention of trying to earn a roster spot with the Columbus Blue Jackets, which separates himself from the Zherdev fiasco.
Not only that, but Filatov is only a year removed from being named The Hockey News‘ #1-ranked prospect (ahead of Hodgson, who went #2). As a Russian sniper with speed, excellent vision, and finish, Filatov isn’t quite cut from the same mold as an Alex Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk, but he’s not far behind. With the appropriate amount of playing time and chances, Filatov will be a superstar in the NHL. It’s just a matter of where and when.
From the Blue Jackets’ standpoint, yes, the team could certainly use an offensively-skilled defenceman. But given the type of talent available by trade (Tomas Kaberle) or for free (Sheldon Souray), even the biggest of Canucks fans would take those type of players over Kevin Bieksa, and twice on Sundays. Bieksa is the kind of defenceman who can be relied upon to contribute solid minutes as a second-pairing blueliner, but by no means is a franchise player, and certainly not one who should be traded for an elite Russian prospect, however much of a headcase he may or may not be.
As a Canucks fan, I would love to see this trade happen. The problem is I just don’t want to get my hopes up. This is the kind of trade that only happens in the wildest of fantasies. The trade value of the two players is not even close.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure in the coming days we’ll learn more about this trade possibility, but in the meantime, it’s nice to dream.