As anyone who has ever seen me play hockey, or most any sport for that matter (note: for the purposes of this column, and really for all of society’s benefit, we are not including competitive eating as a “sport”), I have not been blessed with any overwhelming talent. Playing hockey, I skate with my head down. Playing baseball/softball, I subscribe to the theory that I like my nose how it currently looks, and if that means giving up a base hit, so be it. Let’s not even speak about basketball as what I play certainly is a bastardized version of the game (“White Jew Can’t Jump”). Any success I have in my athletic endeavours is certainly about 10 percent talent, 70 percent effort, 20 percent luck/goaltender in the midst of a seizure.
I’ve been thinking of talent and athletes more in the last few days with news that Nikolai Zherdev, he ex of the Blue Jackets, Rangers, and Flyers, is interested in becoming a member of the Winnipeg Jets. Dripping with talent, the former fourth overall draft pick has yet to harness the talent he has and really maximize his skill set. Sure, he has had some productive seasons (61 points in 2007-08 with the Blue Jackets), but so much more was expected of him given his lofty draft status and natural talent that most can only dream to possess.
More on Zherdev after the jump.
Throughout the week, as news regarding Zherdev’s (alleged) desire to play in Winnipeg has come to the forefront, the general reaction has been mixed at best, and in many occasions negative towards Zherdev becoming a member of our beloved Jets. I understand that sentiment from fans, as if there is one thing hockey fans cannot handle, it’s a player not giving maximum effort, especially one with the natural talent that Zherdev possesses. Even with a modicum of effort, Zherdev should be able to score 30 plus goals per season. Watching Zherdev play in 2011-12 will probably (potentially) be as frustrating for Jets fans as watching Evgeny Davydov play was in the early 1990s.
Despite the obvious distaste that Zherdev has left in Columbus, New York, and Philadelphia the question is should the Jets pursue Zherdev?
The answer, which may be to the chagrin of many Winnipeg Jets fans is an unequivocal yes, with the caveat that it needs to be relatively risk free (read: few years). Looking at the Winnipeg Jets roster, as we have documented many times before, the team is not dripping with an abundance of talent. Some nice pieces, certainly. The team has some players who should develop into top NHL players, but for the 2011-12 season, talent among the forward group is not overwhelming. Should we expect Zherdev to come in, and be an eighty point player while carrying the team? Of course not. It would be naïve at this point to expect that, and unfair to Zherdev given the player that he has been thus far in his career.
Thus far in his stint as General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff has been very prudent and logical in his decision making. Acquiring Eric Fehr for a small price is a good example. Same with the Blake Wheeler contract signing and terms. As we (especially Richard) have said on The Illegal Curve Hockey Show on more than one occasion, there is no such thing as a bad one year contract. Maybe Zherdev comes to Winnipeg, loves the cold weather because it reminds him of Mother Russia, embraces the city’s Ukrainian & Russian heritage and finally harnesses his immense talent. Or he performs like he has in his other stints in the NHL, and plays uninspired hockey like most fans would expect. The point is, that given the team’s current salary cap situation (space galore), the fact their talent level can be described as average, and the fact that they have a void on the right wing to start the season given Fehr’s bum shoulder, the risk in signing Zherdev would be off set by the reward possibilities. I think a 1 year, $1.75 million dollar contract or a two year, $3.00 million dollar contract would be fiscally responsible with minimal downside.
For more on Zherdev’s interest in the Jets, and other Winnipeg Jets news, tune in to tonight’s Illegal Curve Hockey Show. 7-9 PM on Sports Radio 1290 in Winnipeg and streamed live on www.illegalcurve.com.