If there’s one thing that Paul Holmgren and the Philadelphia Flyers have shown to be an unlikely characteristic of themselves during recent NHL off-seasons, it’s their apparent fetish for snooping around the KHL for lost jewels.
That search, at least over the last two summers, has landed eyes of the Orange and Black’s front office on one organization in particular: Atlant Mytishchi. Last year, the Flyers thought they had found their franchise goaltender in former Ottawa Senator cast-off and notorious National Hockey League bad-boy Ray Emery. Razor was 26 when he signed his contract in Philadelphia – a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. However, due to an onslaught of injuries that overshadowed what was otherwise a very strong start, the Emery Project was a miserable failure. Ray Emery is now 27, and unemployed. He still drives a white Lamborghini.
So, what did the Flyers do this off-season?
They found their way through Russia and back to the Atlant organization. However, instead of searching for someone who will stop goals from being scored, the men of the Flying P had turned their hunt to an individual who could put the black biscuits in the basket. And plenty of them.
Flyers fans, Nikolai Zherdev. At your service.
Before you continue the panic that has set in within the gates of Flyerdom this past week since Zherdev becoming a Flyer was made official, hear me out. First of all, I don’t think I need to tell you the main implication of Zherdev becoming a Flyer, but I will anyway. Obviously, it makes the Salary Cap line that the Flyers are currently dwindling on even slimmer, which likely means a trade or (GASP!) a waive of a big-time Flyer in the coming days, weeks, or even months. Many have said it should be Jeff Carter, many have said Danny Briere. Not a whole lot have said Simon Gagne, but, unfortunately, that seems to be the route the Flyers are looking to take. Gagne, if/when traded, will be sorely missed in South Philadelphia, and it truly will not be the same without the longest current tenured Flyer calling the Wells Fargo (Wachovia) Center home this season. However, given the Salary Cap predicament, and Gagne’s expiring contract that will bring him into his 30’s, it kind of makes sense.
All of this, of course, is to make room for Zherdev, the one-time 4th overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003 Entry Draft) who has spent five seasons in the National Hockey League. When it comes to Zherdev, the skill set has never been in question. There is a reason he was a top-five pick, and he is a guy who has scored 20+ goals three times in his career, as well as having reached the 50+ point plateau thrice. However, when speaking of Zherdev the one aspect that does come into question consistently is his focus. How a guy that can look so incredibly good for one, two, even three games, can suddenly look like a guy that has no place playing in the NHL, let alone the AHL is the most puzzling characteristic that could be put to Zherdev’s name. There’s reason to be a little thrown back by this signing, and a helluva large reason to question Zherdev’s commitment – I wouldn’t blame you and I don’t think many other Flyers fans would. After all, it is simply a one year deal for $2 million – it’s not like Zherdev was looking for anything long term here, right? While that all may be true, and while there certainly aren’t many reasons to believe it isn’t true, allow me to try and sway your mindset.
When the Flyers signed Nik Zherdev, I honestly had one thought about it: “Wow, our team as a backchecking unit is going to absolutely suck this year.” Zherdev, coupled with the likes of Jeff Carter, Scott Hartnell, and Danny Briere among others, did not seem like a great group as far as two-way hockey was concerned. However, in his introductory teleconference with the Philadelphia media earlier today, it was like Zherdev had read my mind.
“I’m changing my style and trying to play more defensive zone. I think, right now, I’m two-way player.”
In past years, Nikolai Zherdev and two-way player went together about as well as The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Stanley Cup. However, today, it seemed to me like there could be truth to the statement. NO, not the Leafs and the Cup, of course. Zherdev and two-way hockey. To be honest, Zherdev will have to play two-way hockey and he will have to play hard every night to succeed in this town. Of course, he’ll have to score as well, but that doesn’t concern me. Zherdev’s skills will be there, and the Flyers have their pick of centers (Richards, Carter, Briere, Giroux) that they can team up with him to generate some seriously strong offensive numbers. However, if Zherdev was thinking he was going to come here and give it the “old try”, deciding to show up some nights and take others as just a night-time skate, he was going to be sorely mistaken. Not on this team, a team where Chris Pronger will get in your face the second your focus is off the game; a team where two of the head honchos in Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren won’t be the friendliest men towards someone who isn’t committed on a consistent basis. It would be hard for me to believe that Zherdev signed here and did not realize all this. So, I will choose to believe that he’s fully aware of what he’s entered into by putting pen to paper and signing with the Flyers.
Zherdev played four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, never making the playoffs. He played his final season of NHL action before his one-year hiatus to the KHL in 2008-’09 with the New York Rangers. He fell out of favor in New York, although he did play for the Broadway Blueshirts as the Rangers took the Washington Capitals to 7 games in the first round. Now, however, Zherdev joins the defending Eastern Conference Champions. A team with high hopes, and even higher expectations than anything he’s ever seen in the NHL before.
The Flyers can ill-afford a Ray Emery, part-deux. That’s why they simply won’t get one with Zherdev. He has the potential to be quite a steal, and, given the fact that he’ll actually be playing with the deepest lineup talent-wise he’s ever been a part of in his NHL career, I think he can live up to that potential. Holmgren and Co. would not have gone in on this deal if they didn’t feel it was necessary to add a quality skill guy like Zherdev. They certainly wouldn’t have gone so out of the box to sign a Russian player to a team that rarely sports one if they didn’t feel Zherdev was going to help them this season.
So, let’s shed our tears when Simon (likely) departs from us, but not hold it against Zherdev. Instead embrace a guy that could simply be what so many teams set out for each and every off-season.
The Ultimate Steal.