Will The Real Nik Zherdev Please Stand Up?August 4, 2009, by
Well, its finally official. The Rangers have officially said no to Z’s $3.9 million award, making him an unrestricted free agent. Zherdev’s value and upside have been discussed ad nauseum on this and other Rangers websites, and hopefully this will be one of the last posts in an otherwise tragic story of seemingly untapped potential. Even though it removes a scoring threat from an already anemic offense, the departure of Nik Zherdev and the way it all transpired speaks volumes of who this guy really is and how people really see him. And when you consider the chain of events, it was really a no-brainer.
Consider this…at just 24 years old, and having only played in two full 82-game seasons, Zherdev has amassed 99 goals and 239 points. All these totals were achieved on relatively stale, offensively-inept teams. But when you also consider that the Columbus front office and head coach Ken Hitchcock, whom is very well-respected in hockey circles, repeatedly clashed with the young winger, it makes you wonder where this kid’s head is at. Zherdev actually went as far as threatening the Jackets to remain in Russia if his contract demands weren’t met after his 27-goal season in 05-06. The Jackets broke down and decided to pay him $7.5 million over 3 years. How did Zherdev respond? By putting up 10 goals and 32 points in 71 games. Columbus or not, if you demand that kinda cash and claim to be a rising star in this league, you need to perform, regardless of where you’re playing. Zherdev rebounded the following year with 26 goals, but the coaching staff still failed to get the youngster to reach his maximum potential, and his work ethic was called into question. The Columbus front-office decided they had enough, and traded him to the Blueshirts for essentially nothing. Don’t get me wrong, Fedor Tyutin is a great defenseman and I loved him when he played in New York. But a sniper’s value is a whole lot more than a defenseman’s.
His time in New York was short spotted. He got off to a promising start, and after some spectacular dangling and stick work, everyone thought they got through to him. But somewhere along the way, he just fell off. There was no injury, no sickness, no talk of any dispute with coaches or the front office. He just stopped playing. We can’t even blame it on Tom Renney, because it continued after he was cut loose. When Tortorella arrived, he made it very clear to everyone that there was going to be accountability. Zherdev was benched for periods on end on more than one occasion, and he never responded mentally or physically. Even after 23 goals in the regular season, fans and coaches were still wanting more. And when push came to shove in the playoffs, Nik Zherdev was just abysmal. His playoff stats don’t even tell the story, because its hard to tell a story with a bunch of zeroes and negative numbers. He was skating in mud and quicksand with a lead vest on him, and many of us were caught screaming at the TV for hours begging him to finally make a play….and it never came.
The truth is that Nik Zherdev is a poison for any franchise Not a poison the way Terrell Owens, Brett Favre, or Jessica Simpson are, but a much more dangerous one. You don’t see or don’t hear how infectious he really is until you’re cured of him. He doesn’t speak bad about his teammates, his city, or the front office. He literally does nothing but play hockey, and its difficult to motivate him to do that to the best of his ability. You almost wish he was more outspoken to show you that he actually cared. But it seems he only cares about taking the ice 82 times a year, playing hard when he wants to, and demanding absurd money when the season is over. Can you imagine what his work ethic would have been if he was given the $4+ million he was asking for? Credit Glen Sather for not giving in. That now makes 2 NHL executives in less than a year that have been more than happy to see Nik Zherdev walk out of their locker room for very little in return, and in the Rangers case, nothing. Now, Zherdev is without a home in the NHL, and will likely head back to Russia. He has burned some serious bridges along the way, so its probably best for him to go back to his roots and figure it all out. Hopefully for his sake, he fires whatever person is giving him advice and learns to find a love for the game he once had. Maybe I was a bit harsh on him here, but it bothers me to see a player of his talent simply go through the motions and think he is entitled to whatever he wants. The fact of the matter is that this is still a young player with a ton of potential. But until he gets his head right, no one will ever regret the day they let Nik Zherdev pack his bags and walk out the front door.