Not even two weeks after Nikolai Zherdev told Championat.ru that he wasn’t interested in playing in the KHL next season and wanted to return to the New York Rangers, the first rumor of the forward’s departure from the NHL has surfaced. On Thursday, Russian hockey portal AllHockey.ru published this brief report:
According to unconfirmed information, Nikolai Zherdev, forward of the NHL club “New York Rangers”, in the near future could move to one of the top clubs in the Kontinental Hockey League.
As is known, this summer Zherdev becomes a free agent and therefore there are no contractual obstacles to his return to Russia.
In the 2008/2009 NHL regular season Nikolai Zherdev shared the title of top scorer on the club with Scott Gomez, having scored 58 (23+35) points.
Despite lacking any substance whatsoever, the All Hockey story has already been picked up by about a dozen Russian sites and even Swedish hockey site HockeySvirge.se. The Swedes merely parrot the original story and pimp it as another potential victory for the KHL over the NHL (according to this google translation), but figure it’s just a matter of time before Eklund posts it with an E4 rating because it came from “multiple sources”.
Let’s review what Zherdev told Championat when he arrived in Switzerland on May 1st:
- But you wish to extend with the Rangers?
- Yes, I do.
– And wonâ€™t you return to Russia? Has [Alexander] Radulov not yet advertised the KHL [to you]?
- But Radulovâ€¦ (smiles). No, I donâ€™t want to for the time being. Iâ€™ll always have time [to play] in Russia (smiles).
Seems pretty cut and dry, but let’s play along for a moment. What’s changed in the thirteen days since Zherdev said he wasn’t interested in playing in the KHL? Well, for starters, he won a gold medal at the World Championship. Did winning the IIHF’s top prize inspire a rush of patriotism that’s persuaded the 24-year old winger to consider a return to his adopted homeland? Probably not. What has happened, however, is that — two days after coaching Team Russia to its second consecutive World Championship — national team head coach Vyacheslav Bykov and his faithful assistant Igor Zakharkin have accepted coaching positions with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
Now, those of you who’ve been following along at home will recognize Salavat Yulaev as the KHL’s regular season champs, the team that was so stunningly upset by Jaromir Jagr’s 16th place Avangard Omsk in the first round of the KHL playoffs. Despite their post-season collapse, they’d certainly still qualify as a top KHL team. Some might also recall that Ufa is the team for which the aforementioned Radulov — Zherdev’s friend and roomate in Switzerland — opted to spurn the Nashville Predators and the NHL. Perhaps Zherdev, who’s by no means a lock for the Olympic squad in Vancouver next winter, thinks his chances would be improved if he spent next season playing for the men in charge of selecting the Russian roster. That he’d get to play with his pal Radulov at the same time is just a bonus.
One thing’s for sure, it’s unlikely that any potential defection to the KHL would be driven by money, since, given that league’s financial difficulties and the almost-assured lowering of its salary cap, it’s doubtful Zherdev would be able to do much better than the $3.25m qualifying offer he’s likely to get (at the bare minimum) from the Rangers.
On the other hand, maybe the soon-to-be RFA’s agent was annoyed that his client, by denying any desire to play in the KHL next season, had negated the only leverage he had in negotiations with Blueshirts General Manager Glen Sather, and floated the rumor in an effort to get some of it back.
Then again, maybe it was just a slow news day for the KHL.
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