"I went to Philadelphia in good spirits and had a great preseason. The coach was pleased with me after the preseason games and told me I would be on the top two lines."
"But when the season began, it all went down in flames."
This is how Nikolay Zherdev describes the beginning of his turbulent season with the Flyers. It went on to be full of misunderstandings and mysteries.
Let's hear about it from the man himself as he describes his feelings about getting scratched to make room for the likes of Jody Shelley, to his relationship with his ex-teammates, ex-coach and ex-GM.
Let's start with coach Peter Laviolette, the key factor on why Zherdev's season went the way it did. Down in flames.
"Unfortunately, he didn’t have confidence in me."
"I can’t say that he favors skill based hockey. Some skilled players received normal ice time from him. But if you talk about me, I was never on the top two lines. It was like that right from the start of the season. So I couldn’t even dream about putting up good numbers."
Zherdev isn't sure if his lack of ice time was because of something he did wrong.
"I don’t know. It was more that he simply decided not to change the top two lines that he had had in place already the year before, when the Flyers reached the Cup finals."
Zherdev did have talks with Laviolette.
"Of course. He said I must fight more. [laughs] But I’m not a fighter. Of course, sometimes I can fight and throw punches. But I can’t play all the games like that. For example, if I hurt someone in a game situation, I can back it up in the North American style."
Sometimes the size of the contract can have an effect on the lineup. The bigger the contract, the bigger the minutes. Zherdev doesn't think this was the case with him.
"I don’t think so. There were players on the top lines who earned less than me."
Zherdev is still puzzled about what he could have done better.
"It’s a mystery to me. I think that for those five to seven minutes I got to play in a game, I gave it my all and did the best I could. Especially when you consider I once sat six weeks in the pressbox between the games."
Even Jody Shelley got ice time over Zherdev, which surprised many.
"It didn’t hurt me. It’s a shame, of course. I believed I could play more and help the team, but I was just in the doghouse. It was what it was."
Moving on to Paul Holmgren after the jump.
After constant scratchings, Zherdev was put on waivers midseason.
"Naturally it wasn’t very good news. At first I was scratched half of the time, not allowed to play. And then GM Paul Holmgren invited me to his office and told me about the waivers and said: ‘Nikolay, this is just how it is now.’"
"And then, when no one picked me from waivers, he said: ‘Come on, get to work. We believe in you.’"
Zherdev wasn't all that delighted to hear Holmgren call him an outsider on the Flyers and not understanding why he preferred a car service over rides from his teammates.
"I read the Holmgren interview a little while ago where he said that he wasn’t happy that I used a car service in Philadelphia and didn’t ask any of my teammates to give me a ride instead and that I stayed by myself."
"Tell me, how can he say stuff like that when he has seen me four times? How does he know what kind of a person I am?"
"And why couldn’t I use a car service if I don’t have a car? Personally, I think I did nothing wrong there, considering I wasn’t familiar with the city that was new to me."
"He also said that I wasn’t a part of the team. Yeah, of course I wasn’t. I sat in the press box for a month and a half and then he told me to get out there and play."
"If I’m in the roster, I should actually be on the team. Not just go to the practices without any chances to help the team. To help them win the Stanley Cup."
So the Flyers did have a chance to win the Cup?
"A chance. As we say, the coach wins, the team loses." [smiles]
Moving on to ex-teammates. Was Zherdev shocked to hear about the trades involving Mike Richards and Jeff Carter? The answer is blunt.
"It wasn’t a shock to me, because I don’t play there anymore."
But unlike for hix ex-coach and ex-GM, Zherdev has nice words for his ex-teammates.
"I had normal contact with these guys. Especially with the captain, Richards. He always helped me. And in general, I was always helped by two guys there; Richards and Brière."
What about Bob? How does Zherdev see the young goaltender do in his sophomore season?
"Actually, it isn’t fully clear yet where he will play. It seemed like they made up their minds about him, but then changed their minds. If he stays and becomes the backup for Bryzgalov, he’s going to play 15 games per season. That’s bad."
"But if Bobrovsky gets traded to another team that would make him the starter, he will have another brilliant season."
"Now everything depends on how he does in practices. Not much else can be done about it."
Does Zherdev see tough times ahead for Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia?
"He will be okay. As long as he won’t take a taxi." [laughs]
Zherdev is a free agent now, considering his future options.
"I have no timetable. I’m not in a hurry, I have time."
"I remember a case a few years ago I had already played ten games in Russia and then one NHL team gave me a good offer."
"Now I’m just focusing on getting prepared for a new season and choose the best contract for me. The agent handles everything else."
The negotiations are on, but Zherdev says he's not aware of all the details.
"I don’t know all the details of the situation. The agent does."
"But I can say that I’m seriously considering all offers from both NHL and KHL."
Right now it sounds like the Winnipeg Jets and Atlant of the KHL are the two most likely options for Zherdev. Some free agents are said to be avoiding Winnipeg because of the cold weather there in the winter. Zherdev says it wouldn’t be a problem for him.
"The weather is not a priority to me. The most important thing is to get a good role on the team, a good coach and a good contract. Everything related to climate and geography doesn’t basically mean anything."
"I met with Vityaz GM Alexei Zhamnov a little while ago, he played three years in Winnipeg. He said it’s very cold and a lot of snow there in the winter, which just makes it an ideal place for hockey. Great!"
"Manitoba doesn’t scare me. I wasn’t born in Africa afterall."
Long term contracts have become more common these days and many players seem to prefer them to get some stability in their lives. Zherdev is known as a journeyman who signs one year deals, switching teams every year. He says it's a choice.
"I just love the change of scenery. If it’s an option, I sign a contract for one year."
Sometimes players can just be a good fit on certain teams. Zherdev agrees and thinks there are teams out there that might be a good fit for him as well.
"You know, for some reason, the first teams that come to mind are Washington and Detroit. In general, I think finding a good fit is important."
"For example, the Flyers are more like an army where you need to fight."
This report was based off of a Russian-language story in the publication Sport-Express.