Will Nikolai Zherdev complete his season with the Blue Jackets?

By Simon Richard

Will Nikolai Zherdev complete this season

Last fall there were rumors that Columbus
draft pick Nikolai Zherdev was staying against his
will with CSKA Moscow in the Super League. Hockey’s Future tried to clear up
the question on November 29th, publishing an article based on a
conversation with Sasha Tyzhnych,
Zherdev’s agent. Mr. Tyzhnych
reiterated that it was Zherdev’s decision to stay wit CSKA for the 2003-04 season. On December 1st, just two days after the
publication of the article, persistent rumors said Zherdev had secretly flown to
on his way to
Late that night, we reached Tyzhnych by phone, but he
declined to comment at that time. The next morning, it was confirmed that
Zherdev had left CSKA Moscow for the Columbus Blue Jackets.


Exactly a month later, we met
Mr. Tyzhnych in
at the World Junior Championships. He repeated to us that it was Zherdev’s
decision to stay one more year with CSKA Moscow. But, as we all know now, he
had some problems with Coach Tikhonov. His ice time declined. He played on
fourth line and was even sent down for one game to CSKA 2.


"In June 2003, Nikolai
choose to stay in
because he thought he was not ready to play in the NHL and that it was better
for his development," said Tyzhnych. "The army never was an issue, he never was in the army." So, when Zherdev decided
things were not going the way he wanted to with CSKA, he decided to move to the
"It was his desire to stay in
it was also his desire to move to
he is a free guy," stated Tyzhnych in



The Russian Hockey Federation
(RHF) did not see it that way. A specific article of the agreement between IIHF
and NHL states that players under military obligations can’t leave their
country for the NHL. The RHF is claiming that Zherdev is part of the army thus
violated the IIHF-NHL agreement. The NHL does not agree. As both sides stuck to
their positions, RHF requested arbitration.


This dispute has to be
considered in the context of the upcoming negotiation of a new agreement between IIHF and NHL. It is well known that the RHF is
unsatisfied with the amount of money given by the NHL for the transfers of
Russian players to
North America.
The RHF claims they should get much more money. IIHF will negotiate a new
agreement with NHL and NHLPA when those parties will have a new CBA. NHL
representatives said they won’t sign such an agreement unless all major
European hockey federations are part of it within the IIHF. The Zherdev case has to be considered in that context.


On January 26th, the
IIHF and NHL designed Swiss arbitrator Stephan Netzle, a judge from the Court
of Arbitration for Sport in

to hear the case. The role of the arbitrator has nothing to do with hockey. He
has to determine Zherdev’s military status. As Mr. Tyzhnych
said, he has simply to answer to one question: Is Zherdev
in the army or not? The answer to this question will rule his NHL eligibility.


If the arbitrator concludes
that Zherdev does not have military status and his transfer to NHL did not
violate the agreement, the Russian player will be free to stay with Columbus
Blue Jackets. But what will happen if not? Questioned about that scenario in
Helsinki, Zherdev’s agent answered that way,
"Zherdev could play in the AHL for
the Blue Jackets’ farm club."


Last week, we asked the same
question to
Szymon Szemberg IIHF’s Information and Media Relations
Manager. According to him, in that case "Zherdev
[could] not play in the NHL or in any
affiliated team for the remainder of the season." Mr Szemberg
added, "There would [be] no further impact, no more than this verdict
would set a precedent for future cases regarding Russian players under military


If we believe Zherdev’s
agent, one thing is sure, "No way he would play in
he told us.


The outcome of the hearing will be known soon because
both parties will meet the arbitrator next week, on February 23rd.
Then, according to Szemberg, he has 72 hours to give
his decision.


Despite all the circumstances, Nikolai Zherdev had a
tremendous start in the NHL, recording 16 points in 34 games. Ten days ago, he
was selected to play at the NHL YoungStars Game, showing to everyone that he
deserved to be there while he had one goal and one assist.


Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book
about the
Series published in 2002.