With the 2010-11 NHL season less than five days away, there may not be a more important player to the Philadelphia Flyers than flashy forward Nikolay Zherdev.
Originally drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2003 NHL Entry Draft by Columbus, Zherdev signed a one-year contract worth $2 million with the Flyers after spending last year in Russia.
Last season, Zherdev posted 13 goals, 26 assists, and 39 points in 52 games as a member of Atlant Moscow Oblast of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He was let go by the New York Rangers following his arbitration case in which he was rewarded $3.9 million by the arbitrator.
Prior to arbitrator's decision, the Rangers had offered their 2008-09 leading scorer $3.25 million. Zherdev was seeking $4.5 million. A difference of $750,000, New York general manager Glen Sather said it was in his team's "best interest" to walk away from Zherdev.
Zherdev has quite the history of being lazy, selfish and flaky off the ice dating back to his days in Columbus.
Before the start of the 2007 season, Zherdev threatened the Blue Jackets not to report to the team if his contract demands were not met. This following a season in which he scored only 32 points in 71 games after scoring 54 points the year prior.
Rightfully so, Columbus did not budge on his salary demands, but at the end of the day, Zherdev would sign a three-year, $7 million contact.
That wasn't the only time Zherdev butted heads with the Blue Jackets front office/coaching staff. On numerous occasions, it was reported that Zherdev had riffs with the coaches that led to rumors of a trade in the weeks heading into the '07-08 season.
His attitude and poor work ethic running on empty with the staff and his teammates. In fact, one teammate labeled him as a "diva" while another said "The guy's not a good teammate, and that's being kind."
For a player who was perceived as "an enigma," Zherdev posted career highs in assists (35) and points (61) while potting 26 goals, one shy of his career high of 27 scored in the 05-06 season, in all 82 games.
However, that proved to be his last season in Columbus as the Blue Jackets traded Zherdev, along with Dan Fritsche, to the Broadway Blueshirts for a pair of defenseman, Christian Backman and Fedor Tyutin.
In his only season with the Rangers, Zherdev was tied with the team lead in scoring with Scott Gomez with 58 points (23G, 35A) in 82 games.
After 365 games in the NHL and scoring 99 goals and 140 assists, Zherdev found himself unemployed in the National Hockey League, and was forced to return to his native land of Russia.
One year later, Zherdev has returned to North American as the Flyers have handed him his another chance to redeem himself, and help him unlock his full potential at the age of 25.
The scouting report on Zherdev via SB Nation:
Assets: Skates with explosive strides and is one of the best one-on-one players in hockey. Can do anything he wants with the puck and oozes offense.
Flaws: Needs a lot of work in defensive-zone coverage. Takes too many shifts off. Hasn't shown the dedication needed to star at the NHL game.
Career Potential: Inconsistent scoring winger
When the Flyers signed Zherdev on July 9 of this year, it led to many to speculate that it meant that the team's longest tenured player, Simon Gagne, had played his last game in the Orange 'n' Black. Ten days later, it became a reality.
The Flyers traded Gagne to the Tampa Bay Lightning for blue liner Matt Walker and a fourth round pick on July 19.
Gagne, 30, ranks ninth on the all-time Flyers list for goals (259), 10th for points (524) and 11th for power play goals (72). He was a two-time 40-goal scorer for the Flyers, and a two-time NHL All-Star.
Unfortunately he fell victim to the salary cap due to his $5.25 million cap hit, a figure the Flyers could not afford with their offseason movement. As much as it hurt to admit, his time in Philadelphia had come to an end.
It was bound to happen, sooner or later.
Furthermore, Nik Zherdev holds the key to replacing Gagne and the offense that departs with No. 12.
The 6'2", 203-pound right winger was listed as the "most imposing offensive threat" coming out of Russia in his draft class. He went before Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler.
Seven years later, those are some of the league's best players. To be tabbed as the "most imposing offensive threat" on a list that includes six All-Stars and two Stanley Cup winners is quite scary. Just imagine if he didn't have his flaws?
Zherdev has blazing speed with great playmaking abilities, hockey sense and puck-handling at speed and in traffic. There's no questioning his upside as an NHL superstar, it's all about whether he has adjusted his attitude after spending the year in Russia.
According to the Delco Times, those close to Zherdev claim he has changed his outlook on hockey after getting married in July. A Flyer teammate said "We've heard the same thing."
If Zherdev is for real about wanting to make his second stint in the NHL a much better one, then he's going to have a chip on his shoulder. He's going to want to prove go everyone in that he's the superstar that scouts claimed he was.
He's going to have a career season.
In five preseason games, Zherdev has scored five goals and an assist. He's beginning to make noise on the score sheet, and he's finding some chemistry with a linemate who is also in for a breakout season.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has been having Zherdev play wing on a line centered by Claude Giroux while rotating the third forward.
Giroux has great playmaking ability with great vision and creativity, his hands are as soft as Charmin toilet tissue and is a very respectable two-way forward who can play both on the wing and in the middle.
For Giroux's sake, Zherdev may actually be the best thing ever to happen to him as he finally may have a legit scoring threat on his wing. Last year, he centered Arron Asham and an average rookie in James van Riemsdyk.
Recording only 47 points in 82 regular season games, Giroux was one of the best players on the Flyers during their Cup run. He registered 21 points (10 G, 11) in 23 playoff games.
Many expect that to carry over to the regular season, and now with Zherdev possibility on his wing, that very well could happen.
For the Flyers, signing Zherdev was a calculated risk that will not cost them much.
However, for Zherdev, it's everything.
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