I can't help but look at the Nikolai Zherdev fiasco through the eyes of an automobile insurance adjuster. And when it comes to Zherdev's brief stint in Philadelphia, it's so easy to apportion fault that, yes, even a caveman can do it.
Just 60 games into his career as a Philadelphia Flyer, Nikolai Zherdev has been launched through the proverbial windshield on his way to the waiver wire.
Was this an instance where the player was entirely at fault? Or can fault be assigned in percentages to all parties involved in the carnage?
It is my estimation that fault can be apportioned equally between all parties involved: the player, the coaching staff and team management.
Let's have a look at the accident scene and pore over the wreckage, shall we?
Shared Liability: 33.3 percent.
When it comes to Zherdev's established image as a player with a poor attitude and work ethic, I have said it before. Now let me say it again.
Who gets to throw that kind of stink onto a player?
The basement-dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets? A team that iced a roster that looked more like an expansion draft than a competitive NHL team during Zherdev's tenure with the club?
Or how about the New York Rangers, who would have happily resigned Zherdev in 2009-2010 had he not taken the team to arbitration and won his claim with a $3.9 million award?
It should be noted that the Rangers reportedly offered Zherdev $3.2 million.
So, in an inexplicable instance of salary cap austerity, Rangers management walked away from Zherdev over $700,000—after overpaying every overpaid player in the history of the NHL prior to Zherdev's arbitration award.
No really. Google it.
That being said, Nikolai Zherdev returned to the NHL in 2010-2011 after a year in exile to the KHL; his poor reputation intact—whether it was deserved or not.
As a player in this situation, it's easy for observers to make the assumption that Zherdev would have prepared for and executed any ice-time he received with the enthusiasm of an AHL call-up desperate to prove he deserved his place in the NHL.
Instead, Zherdev spent much of his playing time platooning with the checking line; potting 15 goals with minimal ice time and power play opportunities and, by all appearances, daring the Flyers to place such a productive player in the press box.
Which is exactly what the Flyers did.
So, in a game of chicken over playing time and better personnel assignments, Zherdev came out of his head on collision with Philadelphia's coaching staff and management worse off.
Shared Liability: 33.3 percent.
Of course, you can't play a game of chicken without someone to square off against, can you?
Maybe Laviolette was concerned that Zherdev's lackadaisical work ethic and his occasional moments of disinterest on the ice during games had the potential to tear through his locker room like chlamydia during Spring Break.
Why else would you place a three-time 20+ goal scorer (on his way to a fourth 20+ goal season) in the press box with a bunch of guys whose sworn duty is to tweet every grimace and sigh of Flyers players (live blogging! Woooo!) for six consecutive games in place of players like Jody Shelley, Dan Carcillo or even Andreas Nodl?
Maybe it goes against every fiber of Peter Laviolette's being to reward a player who puts in anything less than 100 percent effort, with regards to ice time proportional to the skill level of said player. That may very well be.
But it also broadcasts through the NHL that Nikolai Zherdev has lived up to his reputation as a selfish, lazy and disinterested player. How does that allow you to rid yourself of a player you have problems with?
Shared Liability: 33.3 percent
Since Nikolai Zherdev was acquired through free agency, at the end of the day, the only thing the Flyers have lost is the $2 million of Comcast money necessary to procure Zherdev's services. Less if Zherdev is claimed by another NHL team via the waiver wire.
Still, wasn't there a missed opportunity by Flyers management here, by allowing this situation between the player and the coaching staff to fester through 60 games this season?
Whose fault is it when the Flyers can't find a deal for a player the team has complained loudly about all season long?
When you attempt to sell your car, do you approach the people who have listened to you pissing and moaning about the car's unintended acceleration or that funny little quirk where the air bags deploy every time you touch the AM dial, asking them to make a deal with you?
That this whole sorry mess was allowed to play out in months and weeks prior to the trade deadline—when every competitor is tweaking their roster to catch up to the Flyers—seems like a failure in management to me.
Whether the return could have been for a depth player entering the post season, prospects to stock the bare cupboard in Adirondack, or draft picks to replenish those traded away in the acquisitions of other players, it seems like the Flyers could have turned a trade of Nikolai Zherdev into something positive on the ledgers.
Instead, Flyers management let the player and the coaching staff enter into a game of chicken.
Rather than explain to the coaching staff that, in order to foist their problem player onto another team in return for something—anything that could help the team, they should probably pipe down and play Zherdev on a scoring line to allow management the best opportunity to turn a liability into an asset.
Anyone paying attention to this storyline saw the head-on collision coming from a mile away.
How could management let this happen?
In the end, without Nikolai Zherdev, the Flyers are no worse off that they were on February 22. But it really seems like management missed an opportunity to make some lemonade when they allowed the situation to degenerate to this point.
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