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.
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.