Tuesday, August 2, 2011

To Zherdev or not to Zherdev

I’m cheap. Just ask anyone who knows me. My favourite guilty pleasure is a garage sale in a rich neighbourhood. So when I heard Nik Zherdev was actively campaigning to play for the Winnipeg Jets, the first thought the entered my mind was; we could get a first line guy at a third line price. And then that nasty little thing that has stopped so many of my Fred Flinstone-esque schemes in the past reared its ugly head again. The voice of reason, and it said “How come no one else wants this guy?”

A good question indeed.  Nik Zherdev entered the league as a high draft pick and superstar in waiting. There is no doubt about it this guy can dangle the puck, but, if you believe the talk, his play only flows in the offensive direction. The book on Nik Zherdev is that he’s a defensive liability, that doesn’t always bring his offensive A game every night. Still if you look at his highlight reel goals it’s hard not to be tempted. Especially if you consider that fact that he’s relatively young at 26 and he’s demonstrated a desire to play with the Jets.

A hard question, a quandary, a dilemma. Time to call in the hard six hockey panel.  I put the question to them:

What do you think of Zherdev?  And would the Winnipeg Jets be wise to pick him up?

Bruisfan:  Yes get him. Russian talent is not something to pass up on. Pair him up with young Burmistrov and there could be magic. The NHL needs more Russian talent and I think we will see resurgence with the new KHL, MOU. So yes sign him he’s a talented player.”

Jets Connection: “We need Zherdev like JFK needed a convertible.”

The Expert:Zherdev is like many Russian players with enormous offensive talent (ie. Filatov, Krivokrasov, Volchkov, etc...) They often don’t get much playing time from NHL coaches bent on playing defensive systems.  To be fair to these coaches, they are trying to win games and in hockey, stopping goals is nearly as important as scoring them.   For these offensive players (not all Russian, look at Schremp) the puck needs to be on their stick for them to be effective.  Defensive teams need to get the puck back once it’s lost and these guys are often not good at getting it back.  Hence, entire shifts are spent in your own end getting cycled to death.
Zherdev has shown signs of defense in his stats with the Rangers in 2008-2009 as he was their second leading scorer and second on the team in plus/minus with a plus 6.  But generally his plus/minus has been woeful and it’s a concern.  He is another winger, that needs to be on the top two lines to be effective and with the amount of bouncing around he has done he seems like a "me first" player.  So he may not be a good fit for the Jets, but as with all these guys there’s a big reward if you give him a chance, just don't sign him to a long term deal.”

Nucks Fan:  “Winnipeg will need as much talent as they can to add to their plethora of 'character players'.  During the regular season, when the refs actually make calls, his playmaking skills will HAVE to be respected by opposing teams - even if he DOES check out and float for some games.  He's got some grit and will contribute offensively whether or not he’s actually on the scoreboard.  He can help teams that need to get into the playoffs, but may not be someone to rely on once there.  Winnipeg won't have to worry about his playoff performance for a while; just making a presence will be a huge step.
Bottom line ... the guy is ONLY 26 ... an 'enigma' ... wants to be back in the NHL apparently, so he will be motivated for at least a year.  With players on the roster like Ladd, Kane, Glass, Rypien etc, Winnipeg already has the hard working 'character' dynamic and now needs to fill out their 'dance card' and this fella can do the tango, foxtrot and jazz to whatever music is played.  HUGE upside potential with a roster that will protect him.  If he actually wants to play for Winnipeg, this signing should be a no brainer.

So there you have it, the panel has weighed in, three to one in favour. Chevy’s job just got easier.

I’m inclined to agree with the panel. Although centre is the gaping hole in the depth chart, if a talent like Zherdev is motivated to play for your team, you at least need to look at it seriously.  The Winnipeg Jets are deep in defence and light on offense. Nucks fan makes a great point when he says, even if he does check out for a few games who cares? The other teams still need to respect his ability.  

There is another angle to this that people seem to be missing. Let’s say the Jets bring in Zherdev, and get him at a bargain price on a two year deal.  What if he puts up big numbers in the first year trying to get the big contract? He instantly becomes a valuable asset that can be traded for say a first line centre, or a player that’s a better fit.  There’s also one other thing no one has mentioned. Is Winnipeg management even interested? So far all the talk has been coming from Zherdev himself.  No one from TNSE has confirmed that there have even been talks with Zherdevs agent.

There is a ton of potential upside with Zherdev, if he comes at the right price and with the right attitude. However I have to keep asking myself why Nik hasn’t been a mainstay in the NHL. If he’s a poisonous influence in the room, does that fit with trying to build a winning culture long term? Again, hard questions with no easy answer. To Zherdev or not to Zherdev.... 

UPDATE AUG 3, 2011: Nik Zherdev has signed with Atlant Mytishchi of the KHL. 

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