directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Zherdev experiment at center what about the Zherdev Columbus experiment?

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Zherdev experiment at center what about the Zherdev Columbus experiment?

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch confirms this morning that "Nikolai Zherdev's (pictured left) days as a center are finished -- for now."

The question I have is now what about the Nikolai Zherdev Columbus experiment?

Its no secret that ever since the Z's arrival in 2004 under the cover of night from Russia as the 4th overall draft pick from what some consider may be the best draft ever in 2003, the relationship with the flashy Russian has been nothing but rocky.

Things started off well with the enigmatic Russian collecting 34 points in his first 57 games. Heck even the year after the lockout he continued to light up the scoreboard collecting 54 points in 73 games played prompting The Hockey News to run on one of their covers a feature called the "Rick and Nik Show".

I'll be the first to admit I was floored by the talent level first displayed by Zherdev. It was clear from the moment he hit the Nationwide ice that this kid oozed skill - the sky was the limit for him.

Unfortunately it was also that season that signs started to emerge that the relationship was starting to deteriorate with reports of former GM Doug MacLean degrading the young star after games and teammates unhappy with his selfish style of play. The league also started to figure out this kid's game and started to stack the blueline and force turnovers because they knew he'd try to stick handle past everyone.

The 2006-2007 season we saw the Z train completely derail. After a lengthy contract battle between he and GM Doug MacLean, Zherdev missed all of training camp and the first few games of the season last year. He dropped from 27 goals and 54 points to 10 goals and 32 points which was a major disappointment considering he was be counted on as a key member of the offense.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that there was a deal on the table this past summer that would have sent Zherdev to Edmonton for Joffrey Lupul but the Oilers nixed the trade. The irony here is that current Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson who was previously the Assistant GM of the Oilers was most certainly involved in that decision. Now he finds himself smack dab in the middle of the struggle.

Which brings us to training camp in 06-07. It was reported that GM Scott Howson has given every player a clean slate including #13. He even went as far as to travel to Canada to visit Zherdev during his offseason training to discuss expectations and get to know him. It was thought to be a new beginning.

Coach Ken Hitchcock then announced as camp was opening that he would try Zherdev at center. Clearly he was thinking out of the box and was willing to try just about anything to get the 23 year old involved with this team and producing. Apparently that experiment has come to an least for now....and Zherdev has been moved back to wing.

When I look at this current lineup I actually don't see a fit at all anymore for Zherdev. In fact I have him out of my opening day lineup all together as of today (which of course is subject to change.) Some young guys have emerged in Brule, Fritsche and Brassard to help fill the skill positions and quite frankly make this team better. The depth that GM Scott Howson signed this summer in Jiri Novotny and Kris Beech have shown they are capable playing roles in the bottom of the lineup. These guys have all shown a willingness to play the hard nosed physical North American style game that Hitch demands.

Zherdev, on the other hand, has struggled to display that kind of game. In fact he has struggled all preseason and has been held scoreless.

Bottom line I think the Zherdev experiment in Columbus is over. I realize his stock is at an all time low but I think we have to bite the bullet, cut the cord, take a bath -- whatever you want to call it -- get what we can and move on. Not only for the Blue Jackets sake but for Zherdev as well as he can most certainly use a change of scenery. He may go to another team and become that super star player we'd hoped he be for us or he may not but I'm convinced its not going to happen for him here.

There will be some teams desperate from some scoring up front. Both Dallas and Vancouver come to mind as teams that have publicly stated they could use another top 6 winger. If I'm GM Scott Howson I'm kicking those tires and pulling them up to the dinner table to talk turkey. This very moment might not be the best time to deal him but as the season opener quickly approaches and maybe into the season there will be some teams that get desperate and that's when I strike.

Other news and notes:

As far as camp today. There is a practice scheduled for 9:30 a.m. and then its team building exercises.

Michael Peca says he also hopes to play in two of the final three preseason games.

Final rosters are due to the NHL offices by October 1st. The Jackets are expected to carry 21 to 22 players.

There is also a great article about Kris Russell by Michael Arace in the Dispatch this morning which you can find here.


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