Quo Vadis?

Now that Nikolay Zherdev has cleared waivers with zero interest from the other 29 clubs in the NHL, it’s basically up to him what happens next.

He has several options to keep playing: take a demotion to the minors, flee back to the country formerly known as the U.S.S.R., and (even though it might be dog dumb), sit out risking a suspension and await a deal out of Philly.

Adding to the drama was the fact that multiple outlets reported this morning that Zherdev participated in an optional team skate in Voorhees. This, after he fled the same practice facility not 24 hours before, without talking to reporters, in a sedan for parts unknown (or so we all thought).

Let’s hope that some kind of professional pride suddenly seeps into Kolya’s brain and that he finds a way to stay with the franchise. I mean, even a washed-up Petr Nedved took a demotion during that disaster of a 2006-07 season.

If Zherdev is somehow receptive to a round-trip ticket up to Glens Falls, there is a precedent connected to the Flyers, that maybe things will work out all right.

Anyone remember Pierre Larouche?

I know I’m going back a bit, but 25 years ago, Larouche at 30 years old was also at the end of a very productive career that was constantly dogged by accusations of softness, floating, and an inability to produce when it mattered most.

During the 1985-86 season, the New York Rangers were a team struggling to keep up in the competitive Patrick Division. By this time in the year, only the last-place Devils, out of six total teams, didn’t have a shot to make the playoffs.

Anyway, the head coach was a man by the name of Ted Sator, who had spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach with the Flyers under Bob McCammon and Mike Keenan. Sator was a dyed-in-the-wool defense-first coach, and he quickly weeded out a lot of negative influences (Larouche, a former 100-point scorer with Pittsburgh and a two-time Cup winner in Montreal among them).

Larouche spent only 28 contests up with the Blueshirts that season, and  posted 20 goals and 27 points but was saddled with a minus-6. He played 32 games as a guest with Hershey of the AHL (which at that time was the Flyers’ primary affiliate, so I could never figure that out), tallying 22 goals and 39 points in just 32 games.

By the end of the year, the Rangers managed to eke out the fourth and final playoff spot in the division over Pittsburgh, but the team still finished below .500 (36-38-6). Nonetheless, they gave up just 276 goals on the year, in the top 5 defensively out of a 21-team league.

Larouche, in effect, became the secret weapon throughout that year’s playoffs.

Armed with Sator’s knowledge of the Flyers’ personnel and system, plus his defensive mindset and John Vanbiesbrouck’s other-worldly goaltending, the Rangers upset the Flyers. The clincher was a 5-2 win in a deciding Game 5 at the Spectrum.

After dispatching Philadelphia (110 points), New York went on to shock the second-place Capitals (107 points) in six games before the ride was over in a five-game loss to eventual champion Montreal.

All Larouche did was lead the Rangers in scoring for the entire playoffs with eight goals and 17 points in 16 games. He acted as the extra speedy forward the Rangers used in a transition game when capitalizing on the opposing team’s turnovers and lack of discipline.

In the Flyers series, he notched a point-per-game (3 goals, 2 assists) and was a constantly disruptive presence to Philly forecheckers and penalty killers.

Ultimately, the whole situation to me seems like the snake eating its own tail.

Zherdev, the “enigma,” like a certain set of Europeans, thrives on constant work and the confidence of his coaches in order to keep in line. When that flags even a bit, the confidence drops and then the work habits suffer and the healthy scratches pile up and then you can’t find the player in the bowels of the arena 10 minutes before face-off.

On the other side, Peter Laviolette has to do a better job of dealing with the hand he was dealt. If the organization knew what could happen when signing Zherdev, isn’t it up to the head coach to find ways to fit him into the system instead of just throwing up his hands and sitting him? Sometimes, neither the mythical traditional Flyer Work Ethic that supposedly comes with donning the jersey, nor the motivational tactics of the bench boss can turn a player around.

When that happens, a stock black-and-white solution isn’t called for. That’s the John Stevens mentality.

Still, Zherdev is too valuable for what he does provide, however narrow it may be, to chuck away altogether. Let’s hope he and his agent are on the same wavelength there, that they’re both not so full of pride to see that he can stick it out.

Did John Druce complain that he was a scratch for most of the 1996-97 season and into the playoffs? Hell no. He waited for his chance, which came late in the third period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers, helping Trent Klatt tally a go-ahead short-handed goal.

Did Ville Leino pull weird stunts when Laviolette decided to try and make his hind quarters mesh with wood for most of last season after he came over from Detroit? No way, Jose. He waited until the playoffs to show the world what he was capable of.

Did Lavvy finally come to his senses about Leino? Yep, but it was a long and torturous road, filled with a ton of grumbling from the fan base when he was listed as a healthy deletion from the lineup.

With the way events throughout the year have been portrayed through the media, I don’t know if Laviolette’s mind could be converted to seeing the wisdom of unleashing Zherdev only when necessary as the games take on more meaning. This team badly needs depth in order to facilitate a legitimate deep playoff run, and with a precarious cap situation, he’s a warm body, with offensive potential, and we got him for nothing.

The coaching staff would be suckers at this point not to overlook his deficiencies and plug him in where and when he is most valuable. That’s pretty much all they owe Zherdev at this point, and all he owes the Flyers is to at least be there physically and mentally when his time comes.

The wake-up call has been made. This Flyers team, seemingly cruising along at 39-15-6, is far from perfect. Nobody ever said everything had to go right for a team to win a Stanley Cup, because adversity is what forges character.

Both Zherdev and the Flyers organization best give a little ground of their own in order to keep this thing running smoothly on the way to the ultimate goal.