Will The Enigma Return From The East To Play In WNY?
Perhaps the second biggest free agency story of the day (behind the Kovalchuk Sweepstakes supposedly coming to an end at some point today) was that Nikolai Zherdev’s agent is reportedly negotiating the mercurial winger’s return to the NHL by way of Buffalo.
Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 4th overall in 2003 (one spot ahead of Thomas Vanek), he spent his time in the NHL playing for the Blue Jackets before being traded with Dan Fritsche to the New York Rangers. Known for his world-class talent, inconsistent effort, and volatile contract talks, Zherdev was nicknamed by some “The Enigma” before departing in the summer of 2009 to play for Atlant Mytishchi of the KHL.
Yesterday in a story on Atlant’s site, the team’s staff reported that Buffalo and Toronto had come calling for the winger. Igor Popov (one of his agents) refused to comment on the speculation, saying “While I can not comment on this information, let’s wait a week. The situation is difficult at the moment. But I can confirm that the most likely, Nikolai goes to the NHL.” In the story, it’s said that Zherdev is seeking $4M a season in his return to North American hockey. Since the story broke, however, numerous sources have come forth to wholly debunk the Zherdev to Toronto stories.
It’s an intriguing possibility. There’s no denying the Ukranian’s talent, but there’s also a distinct reason he was dubbed “The Enigma”. I think playing for a bad team in a mediocre hockey market took it’s toll on him during his time in Columbus. He didn’t have much support on the Blue Jackets or on the Rangers either after his trade. If he did indeed sign with Buffalo, he’d find himself on arguably the most talented line of his NHL career with 40-goal man Thomas Vanek and 80-point pivot Derek Roy. He’d also have a competent scoring line of Jochen Hecht, Tim Connolly, and Jason Pominville helping to keep the pressure off his back in his return.
If he really is seeking $4M, I would gladly see him receive it…for a one-year deal. He’s a player whose greatest knock is his consistency and for players who are known for their inconsistency, a one-year deal works best. It would provide him the impetus to play hard in an effort to earn himself a big pay-day in his second season back from Russia. If I were Darcy Regier, I’d give him that one-year deal worth $4M and then quickly bury Drew Stafford in the AHL for the final year of his contract.