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Nikolay Zherdev’s summer of waiting continues… But why?

Jul 21, 2011, 3:25 PM EDT

Nikolay Zherdev Getty Images

Nikolay Zherdev‘s career in the NHL has been a peculiar one. He’s been labeled, predictably, as “enigmatic.” Through his days with Columbus, the Rangers, and Philadelphia he’s been cycled in and out of the lineup as the coaches whims have warranted. Through his career he’s shown he’s capable of being a 20-30 goal scorer.

Last season in Philadelphia, Zherdev was in and out of the lineup under Peter Laviolette playing in 56 games scoring 16 goals and adding six assists. That production may not sound like much, but for a guy who was coming back to the NHL after a season away in the KHL, it showed he can still score goals in the NHL. Through his NHL career, Zherdev’s played in 421 games and scored 115 goals with 146 assists in six seasons, but there’s something amiss here.

With no one seemingly willing to line up and sign him, Zherdev is holding out hope of staying in the NHL. Yahoo’s Dmitry Chesnkov reports that Zherdev is holding out hope that an NHL team will do so and that he’s not interested in going back to Russia.

Could Zherdev’s troubles in landing a job have more to do with how he is when he’s off the ice than when he’s on it? Ryan Bright of Philly Sports Daily says that Zherdev’s shyness and attitude around everyone could be holding him back from a new job in the NHL.

He was different. He was a loner that never assimilated to the team. In an organization where players and management are considered family, Zherdev, who spoke English but rarely talked to the media because of chronic shyness, was a distant cousin with no blood relation. It seemed more-and-more that for Zherdev, Philadelphia was just a rest stop. The Flyers were a stepping stone to whatever it was he would rather be doing.

The perception of Zherdev was one of a goal-scoring mercenary. No allegiance, just money.

That philosophy and personality would be considered fine for the NBA or the NFL. But Zherdev was in the NHL — a league that heralds the personable and expects a humble but open demeanor from its players. Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Jeremy Roenick, Tim Thomas, Teemu Selanne, are all kings of the game. It’s not just about embracing hockey on the ice, but off of it.

And that’s where Zherdev is lacking.

Ouch.

While the locker room and off-ice attitude can be a problem, shouldn’t his production on the ice work more in his benefit regardless of that? Cam Charron at The Leafs Nation laid out Zherdev’s deeper statistics (Corsi, Quality of Competition) that show if a NHL team took a shot at bringing him aboard, they could benefit greatly from it.

The verdict is that Zherdev was paid just $2M last season and would probably play again for a similar number this season. If a team needs a scoring winger, the opportunity is begging itself. For the sake of my sanity and the sake of the owner’s chequebook and squeezing every last bit of value out of a hockey player, some team needs to sign him. Rest the perception about his intangible value, rest the perception about European players not playing hard enough, and just sign the best available unrestricted free agent who scores goals.

Zherdev could be very helpful to an offensively starved team that’s in need of a creative winger. Watching him play with the Flyers last season was an exercise in the full experience of watching him play. One game he’d be invisible, unable to play and carry the offense, and not generate anything. Others, he’d be dynamic in forcing offensive play and generating shots on goal and scoring goals. If put alongside top offensive players Zherdev could find the consistency he’s been missing his entire career.

  1. psudu - Jul 21, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    How about his legal troubles with smashing his wife’s car or whatever it was back in Russia? Whatever came of that incident? If it wasn’t resolved yet, that could be another reason nobody is taking a flier on him.

  2. psudu - Jul 21, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    The incident had something to do with him chasing her down with a pipe or smashing her car with it while she was trying to drive away…something like that…

  3. jpelle82 - Jul 21, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    how about the fact that he is lazy and is just an overall bust. he has had the “fresh start” twice now and still hasnt come close to reaching his potential. there’s a lot of hungry young guys out there who work hard and kill themselves for an opportunity at a roster spot, zherdev aint one of them

    • taflex - Jul 21, 2011 at 11:32 PM

      I’m still looking at “glass half full” with him. He does have the talent. He just needs to commit more defensively. Was hoping he would be one of those surprise pickups the Flyers would get that would finally bring the Orange and Black the Cup. Maybe my half full glass ain’t full of the same KoolAid as everyone else.

  4. bwayblues79 - Jul 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    How is it that a team like the Islanders haven’t signed this guy? They have trouble scoring goals at times, they don’t have to give him a life-long contract, and they’re $9 million below the cap floor, according to capgeek. Yet they wasted no time resigning Trevor Gillies to a one-year extension.

  5. cshearing - Jul 22, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    How can he not make a team better? For all those reasons you mentioned. There is no dividing line,. whereby all things here affect on-ice performance, and all those things over there only affect things in the locker room. Everything affects everything, and as a complete package he has continuously shown he is not worth it. Maybe he can still turn it around, but all past indicators point to disappointment.

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