On July 9th, 2010 the Philadelphia shocked their fan base by signing Ukrainian dangler Nikolay Zherdev, returning him to the NHL after a year in the KHL. Zherdev, a former fourth over pick in 2003, was helped out of North America by a couple of restricting coaches and bad press.
The Blue Jackets, Zherdev’s original team, cited his lack of commitment on the back end as why they gave up on him. The Rangers, his second team, lost arbitration with Zherdev and refused to pick up the 3.9 million dollar tab for the talented player. The Flyers were in desperate need of scoring wingers, and with the NHL free agent market being not to their liking, they looked to Zherdev.
Zherdev has made the Flyers look like sages by lighting the lamp five times in six games while developing chemistry with Claude Giroux. What has even been more impressive than his goal scoring has been his back checking and physical play.
Jeff Carter, on the other hand, is a Canadian draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers. He was selected 11th overall in 2003. Since then he has been viewed as part of their core. He posted 46 goals in the 2008-2009 season and has been one of the team’s most natural goal scorers for his five year career. Carter has continued this pace in the 2010 preseason. Carter posted four goals in five games, while adding two assists.
Carter and Zherdev have the semblance of the same player. Besides being drafted only seven slots apart in 2003, they are two months apart in age—both 25, turning 26. Carter stands at 6’3’’ while Zherdev measures in at 6’2’’. However, in meters, they are only .03 meters apart, according to Wikipedia. With the same frame, they both fill out at around 200 pounds. Carter is 200 on the nose and Zherdev tips the scale at 203 pounds.
Besides physical attributes and age, Carter and Zherdev equally rely on their finesse games for success. Carter and Zherdev both have an affinity to shoot the puck. A lot. Nik took 219 shots his last NHL season only to be outdone by Jeff who took 342 on target shots in the same 2008-2009 season. Maybe the fact that they both played 82 games that year helped the cause.
There are also the reports of lazy, undedicated play, which has resulted in both players having been on the wrong side of the media. Carter has been pegged as a party animal in the Olde City section of Philadelphia and the Jersey shore. His off-ice habits have been an area of concern for both fans and beat writers. They mention his lackluster skating style as proof—his missed opportunities in the playoffs have done nothing to silence these claims.
Zherdev, too, has been referred to as lazy. When the Flyers signed the winger some already predicted doom, standing on the shoulders of past critics. Rangers’ writer Larry Brooks called Zherdev an under-achiever the year he led the Blue shirts in points. The consensus is that Zherdev only tries when he has the puck on his stick; that getting anything out of him outside the offensive zone is a waste. However, Zherdev was one of the few pluses on that abysmal Rangers team that year.
Both with Carter and Zherdev, the media has over-harped the flaws in their game. Sure they aren’t the best defensive forwards, but they do their part.
If the preseason is any indication of how these players will play this season, Carter and Zherdev will be in a shootout to win the scoring title for this team. Not only that, it might go as far as dismissing the negative reports for both players. Zherdev and Carter seemed to be extra-impressive on the back check and defensive positioning. Especially Nik, who was just introduced to Coach Laviolette’s system.
But what is the result of Zherdev’s possible success? Will there be any casualties? For my money, I think yes. And I think it will be his biggest competitor for the Flyers’ scoring crown, Jeff Carter.
Jeff Carter has many strikes against him so far. He is a center; the team is stacked down the middle as of now, including team captain Mike Richards and future superstar and franchise player Claude Giroux. Carter has not had success playing on the wing, something he must adapt to to keep his days in Philly alive. This is evidenced as recent as last playoffs where he couldn’t find success next to Richards and former Flyer Simon Gagne. More on that note, Carter has never done well in the playoffs. This is something that can be a big problem for the annual cup contenders.
There is also the fact that both are due for a contract this upcoming off-season. With Carter already making five million, one would suspect a raise, especially after his success in the goal column. Zherdev, while only making two million this year, would see a big pay increase if he plays as he did in the preseason. A gracious estimate would cap Zherdev at Carter’s current five million dollar cap hit.
Although Philly is a big market team, salary concerns everyone in the cap era. Giroux and playoff surprise Ville Leino are among some of the other Flyers looking to earn bigger pay checks this forth coming off-season. The need to stretch every dollar to keep as much of the key players as possible may leave room for only one of Carter and Zherdev. Since Zherdev most likely will be cheaper, he may be the sniper they choose to invest in come the time to resign. That is, if Zherdev can produce.
If all is going well for Nikolay and the Flyers come trade deadline, it may not be such a shock to see Carter moved to address a possible weakness, or stock up on draft picks. More plausible, however, is a Draft Day trade. Carter’s rights could be moved for a first rounder plus-package. Carter would be one of the names to go, because as been already reported, he is one of the few higher priced Flyers lacking a no-trade clause and has the highest trade value.
Zherdev’s signing in July seemed like just another piece to the puzzle but by next July could mean the end to Jeff Carter in Philly. Zherdev’s play may prove to the Flyers that he should be a top priority, and make his fellow 2003 first rounder a casualty of the salary cap era. The Flyers have a lot of tough personnel decisions in the near future, and many of them will be decided by play on the ice. One of the most intriguing though will be the possible emergence of Nik Zherdev and who it causes management to leave in his wake.