Flyers admit they’ve heard the conflicting reports about Nikolay Zherdev

If there’s one word I would use to describe Nikolay Zherdev’s NHL career, it would be “messy.” It started out that way with the Columbus Blue Jackets, a frustrating chapter he seemed to acknowledge by going by “Nikolay” instead of “Nikolai” once he returned to the league with the Philadelphia Flyers. (Then again, that seems like a common practice for Russian hockey players, so perhaps I’m reading too much into that.)

Either way, Zherdev has traveled a bumpy road in his still-young hockey career. The latest bit of (rather confusing) news probably won’t help the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent much at the bargaining table, either.

There seem to be two conflicting reports about an incident that allegedly happened between Zherdev and his wife. I’ll lay them both out for you, to try to keep everything as clear as possible. Keep in mind that there’s plenty of hearsay and guesswork going on here, so take these reports with a grain of salt. (That being said, the Flyers did acknowledge that they’re aware of the conflicting reports, for whatever that’s worth.)

Report 1: The initial reports indicated a rather over-the-top scene. According to Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, Zherdev got into a verbal argument with his wife during breakfast at the restaurant Osteria di campagnia. He followed his wife to her car, trying to open unlocked doors. His wife tried to drive away, but he allegedly caught up to the automobile and “wailed on her car” with a metal rod. (H/T to Philly Sports Daily.)

(There are two things I think of when picturing that scene: Wolter Sobchak beating up the wrong sports car in “The Big Lebowski” and Tiger Woods’ ex-wife [allegedly] going after his SUV in that infamous incident.)

Crossing Broad discussed a translated account that indicated that Zherdev might have uttered some death threats, but it’s not safe to assume that happened without some kind of official confirmation.

Report 2: Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov did a little extra digging and found a conflicting report from the restaurant’s manager in Sovietsky Sport.

“There was nothing remotely similar to what was written on the Internet took place in front of our restaurant. This is such nonsense! I specifically asked the entire personnel, including security guards, but no one saw anything. Besides, we are located on the second floor of the building, there are two beauty salons, a flower store, a bank as our neighbors … “

Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey thinks out loud a bit about what might explain the restaurant manager’s conflicting report.

Just going over the details in my mind, the original report said that Zherdev’s wife left the restaurant and then went to her car and drove away. When she got to a nearby street light (or stuck in traffic) and had to stop, Zherdev then attacked her car with a metal pole.

The blow-up happened down the street then, right? Or, even if it happened right out front, and the restaurant is on the second floor like the guy says, his personnel easily could’ve missed the scene downstairs on the street, right?

Obviously, I’ve never been to this restaurant or this street so I’m just trying to think logically. And maybe this restaurant owner doesn’t want this thing staining his establishment. Who knows what the motives are in both directions. I’m just thinking out loud here.

It might take time to find out what really happened – if we ever do – but as many pointed out, it’s unlikely that Zherdev will be a member of the Philadelphia Flyers again. Then again, perhaps this was just the last straw. As talented as he is (the Blue Jackets made him the fourth overall pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft), the Flyers frequently made him a healthy scratch during the regular season.

His offensive talent is tough to deny, but he can be a defensive liability who also inspires questions about his attitude. We’ll let you know if more details emerge, but we might not see Zherdev in the NHL again for quite some time.

Predators first-rounder Tolvanen becomes youngest to score hat trick in KHL

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Talk about making a great first impression.

Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen became the youngest KHL player to score a hat trick while adding an assist in his debut for Jokerit against Dinamo Minsk.

Tolvanen turned 18 in April. It’s ludicrously early, but with a night like this, people are already wondering if the forward was a steal; the Predators nabbed him with the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Here’s some footage of his performance:

If that Jokerit debut is any indication, he could have a special season, especially for an 18-year-old in the KHL.

A scouting report from Pension Plan Puppets touted Tolvanen’s shot as the best in the 2017 draft, and they believed he could be one of the big steals. And that was if he ended up landing in the teens, let alone No. 30.

BREAKING: Predators GM David Poile and his staff know what they’re doing.

Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.

Maple Leafs may look to Russia to improve defense (again)

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Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello recently made a visit to Russia, but they didn’t admit why they went.

It turns out that they were scoping out KHL defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, who plays for CSKA, according to Johnston and others.

Ozhiganov, 24, did not go drafted. He does, however, have some interesting NHL connections. For one thing, he suited up for the same team that Nikita Zaitsev did, so that experiment has already worked out quite well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As you can see from the tweet above, Ozhiganov will play in the KHL through 2017-18. That’s impressive due diligence from the Leafs’ brass, although you wonder if such maneuverings might put the defenseman higher on the radars of other teams hoping to add depth to their bluelines in the future.

Raw Charge notes that Ozhiganov is a buddy of Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, who definitely sings the defenseman’s praises. Even with Mikhail Sergachev in the mix, the Bolts are a group that will probably want to bolster their mix (especially in the uncomfortably likely event that Dan Girardi disappoints).

Either way, NHL fans will need to wait at least a season to see what Ozhiganov is capable of … and where he lands.

Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.