New York Rangers forward Nikolai Zherdev once again made it clear that he believes his run on Broadway is finished on Friday, this time in an interview with Russian web site Sports Day by Day. The restricted free agent sounds confident that an arbitrator will rule in his favor when the two sides state their cases on July 31st, and seems convinced that when he does, the Rangers will walk away from the talented Ukrainian, leaving him an unrestricted free agent. That’s not such a stretch, since it’s pretty much what the New York media has been saying since he filed the arbitration paperwork two weeks ago.
Zherdev’s Russian agent, Alexander Tyzhnykh, has assured his client that there will be substantial interest in the five-season NHL veteran once questions surrounding his contract situation are settled. While he’s undoubtedly right — jilted Rangers fans convinced he has no value need only look at the list of teams searching for top-six forwards and compare it to the list of remaining UFAs — the docket of teams with the cap space to make it happen is dwindling by the day.
As for the KHL, it remains an option for the 24-year old forward, who revealed on Tuesday that he’d likely start training with Atlant Mytishchi later this month, but he reiterated his desire to remain in the NHL. The interview touches on a wide variety of other topics as well, ranging from his fight with rookie Steven Stamkos last season, to his thoughts on life in America, to whether he believes head coach John Tortorella is behind the Rangers reluctance to re-sign him. The full translation is below.
- Nikolai, do you suppose that it’s a plot of Rangers coach John Tortorella to tell the team’s management that he doesn’t see you in his game plan?
- Anything’s possible. There’s no point in blaming a person without evidence. It could be that the coach has nothing to do with it at all. Why even start guessing? Though the previous coach of the team, Tom Renney, trusted me more than Tortorella. But John didn’t tell me that I didn’t suit him.
- Now, at the threshold of the [arbitration] hearing, is your mind uneasy?
- Not especially. My agent Alexander Tyzhnykh and I are sure we’re right. I believe that I deserve more [than the $3.25m qualifying offer]. Look at my statistics for the past season. I don’t think that I’ll be left without a team. My agent has assured me that several NHL clubs are waiting for the the situation with the arbitration case to be settled and will show substantial interest in me.
- Is it true that there’s a possibility of your returning to Russia?
- It’s impossible to rule anything out. The KHL is a strong league, in which it’s not at all disgraceful to play. There is interest in me on the part of Russian teams. After July 31st, I’ll weigh everything and make the best decision for myself. But, to be honest, as an ambitious player, I would still like to stay in the NHL.
- And what kind of contract will suit you? Would you agree on five million a year?
- First of all, I would like to sign a long-term agreement with the club, for 3-4 years. To have some semblance of stability. As for the number — the bigger the number on the contract, the better.
- Where have you spent the first half of the summer?
- In the Crimea. At my parents house in the small town of Chernomorsk. It’s nice here — the sea, the air. At the same time I’ve been keeping in shape.
- The World Championship was mixed for you. After the second shift of your first game you broke a finger on your hand. In your heart, did you not regret that you arrived in Switzerland?
- Of course, that incident didn’t make [the experience] more positive. But as you know even with the injury I was on the ice, giving everything I had in each game. I did all I could for the team. And I became a world champion. So what regrets could we speak about?
- In New York, you rent a spacious apartment in the heart of the city in Manhattan. How much is the rent for your place?
- It’s no secret that real estate is very expensive there. I paid $10,000 a month. But it was well worth it. After all, they don’t call New York the center of the world for nothing. Here it’s possible get a good rest.
- Have personal fans of you appeared in New York?
- I was a little amused by a poster which I saw at one of the Rangers home games. It was held by a girl and on it was written “Niki, I want to marry you.” But don’t think that I only had personal fans, but [also] fans who often approached me and said that they liked my style of play. The majority of Rangers fans call me “Z” or “Niki”.
- Since you’re already familiar with life there, have you thought about remaining overseas after your career ends?
- No, life in America doesn’t suit me. The difference in mentality is too great between us. I dreamed of getting to the NHL for many years. My dream came true. But now, as soon as the season finishes, I’m immediately drawn to Kiev. All my family is there. The NHL is just a job.
- I recall an incident last season when you came to blows on the ice with Steven Stamkos of Tampa. Why were you so upset with the first pick in the 2008 draft?
- He hit me from behind. How else would a normal person react? I could have suffered a concussion. Or become disabled. Adding to my annoyance was that the referee, most likely, slept through the incident. He decided, at least, that Stamkos hit me without breaking the rules. So I fought for the first time in the NHL. I vaguely remember that I fought with him for a few seconds, but then both of us fell down.
- What do NHL players not like to talk about amongst themselves?
- About hockey, probably. Because there are plenty of topics for discussion.
- Coming to Kiev every summer, do you follow news about Ukrainian hockey? Have you heard, that a candidate for the post of coach of the Ukranian national team is Michael Krushelnyski, a Canadian with Ukranian roots who is currently under contract with Chekhov Vityaz?
- Frankly speaking, I don’t always manage to follow it. Kiev is dear to me, but don’t forget that I was still a teenager, 13 years old, when I left for Electrostal. I’d play for the Ukrainian national team with pleasure — if the level of development of hockey here was comparable with Russia. In the meantime it’s not even worth talking about, unfortunately.
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