Nikolay Zherdev

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

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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.

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.

Video: Orpik penalized after catching Maatta with late, high hit

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were without defenseman Olli Maatta for most of the first period of Game 2 after he was on the receiving end of a high, late hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik.

The hit occurred early in the first period, well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck on a rush into the Washington zone.

Maatta, who nearly fell over as he tried to stand back up, was in obvious distress as he went to the dressing room. Orpik was given a minor penalty for interference on the play.

Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’

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It’s been 31 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs had the No. 1 overall pick at the draft.

And, to hear team president Brendan Shanahan explain it, getting back to that top spot wasn’t easy — on anybody.

“We earned this the hard way,” Shanahan told Sportsnet on Saturday, moments after winning the draft lottery. “It wasn’t a whole lot of fun this year, but our guys and our coaching staff and our management staff did a lot of really good things here in Toronto.

“This [the No. 1 overall pick] will certainly help.”

It’s easy to see why optimism is high within the organization.

The last time Toronto had the No. 1 pick it selected Wendel Clark, who went on to become a revered player. He played for the Leafs on three separate occasions, served as team captain and now works for the organization in a public relations and community ambassador role.

This year, the opportunity to make a similar impact is there.

Auston Matthews, viewed as the odds-on favorite to go first overall, possesses the elite-level talent that could turn a franchise around. And there are few teams in more need of a turn than Toronto — as Shanahan alluded to, this was a very difficult year, as the Leafs finished dead last in the standings and were the only NHL club not to crack the 30-win plateau.

Part of that was by design. The Leafs dealt away Phil Kessel prior to the season, Dion Phaneuf during it and jettisoned a host of other productive players: James Reimer, Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, Daniel Winnik and Shawn Matthias, to name a few.

By the end of the year, the Leafs were a mishmash of AHLers, spare parts and a few future pieces.

Speaking of the future…

Assuming the Leafs go the Matthews route, it’s expected he’ll make an immediate impact on the lineup. TSN already has him penciled in as the No. 2 center — playing the middle on a line with the club’s other top prospect, William Nylander — and Matthews’ head coach in Switzerland this season, Marc Crawford, used L.A. Kings star Anze Kopitar as a potential comparison.

Of course, there is a chance Matthews isn’t the pick.

Finnish sensation Patrick Laine has been making waves recently, thanks in large part to capturing SM-liiga playoff MVP honors this week. Laine has the kind of goalscoring ability and booming shot that would translate well — and, immediately — to the NHL level, though he is a winger.

Not a center, like Matthews.

Regardless of who the Leafs pick, this much is clear — they bottomed out this season with the intention of getting a high draft pick and, while the process was very painful at times, everything worked out in the end.

“When you have an opportunity to pick first overall, it’s an important moment for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s an important moment for our fans,” Shanahan explained. “Our ownership group has given us the support to do this build the right way.”

Tank you very much: Leafs win NHL Draft Lottery, retain No. 1 overall pick

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from worst to first.

The Leafs finished dead last in the NHL’s overall standings, giving them the best odds of winning Saturday’s draft lottery. And when the big show ended, Toronto had landed that top pick for the draft on June 24.

Outside of Toronto, the biggest winner Saturday had to be the Winnipeg Jets. They entered the day with the sixth best odds of getting the top pick at just 7.5 per cent. They were able to move all the way up to the second overall pick, which could certainly land them a franchise player and one that could definitely be ready to make the jump into the NHL next season.

The biggest loser? You could definitely argue it was the Vancouver Canucks. They finished 28th in the overall standings, giving them an 11.5 per cent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. But they fell all the way to fifth.

The Edmonton Oilers? Well, they didn’t win. Had they won the lottery, it would’ve given them the first overall pick for the fifth time in seven years.

Here is the 2016 draft order:

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs
  2. Winnipeg Jets
  3. Columbus Blue Jackets
  4. Edmonton Oilers
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Calgary Flames
  7. Arizona Coyotes
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Montreal Canadiens
  10. Colorado Avalanche
  11. New Jersey Devils
  12. Ottawa Senators
  13. Carolina Hurricanes
  14. Boston Bruins

Now that the order is set, who will go No. 1, 2 and 3 in that opening round?

Auston Matthews has long held the title as the top-ranked player heading into this draft. But there’s been increasing chatter that Finnish winger Patrik Laine has at least closed the gap between him and Matthews for that first overall selection, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

Meanwhile, fellow Finnish forward Jesse Puljujärvi likely rounds out the top three, following a sensational showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships.