Nikolay Zherdev has not, by most accounts, had a great season.  He was waived by the Flyers, and even more damningly cleared.  He recently played three games in a row, which is the first time that has happened in more than a month.  A quick Google search for “enigmatic Russian” + “hockey” shows him still trailing Alexei Kovalev and Alex Frolov, but not by a lot.

Certainly the superficial numbers support the prevailing opinion.  Zherdev had 61 and 58 point seasons prior to a one-year KHL interlude, but so far this season he has managed just 22 in 54 games.

What happens when we dig a little deeper into Zherdev’s season?

Let’s start by looking at Zherdev’s even-strength scoring numbers for his past three NHL seasons, courtesy of behindthenet.ca:

Season Team G/60 A1/60 A2/60 PTS/60
2007-08 Columbus 0.95 0.75 0.15 1.85
2008-09 N.Y. Rangers 0.94 1.05 0.50 2.49
2010-11 Philadelphia 1.34 0.19 0.19 1.72

Interestingly, Zherdev’s even-strength goal-scoring is up, which fits given the slight increase in his shooting percentage.  His overall totals are slightly down thanks to a remarkably poor year in assists (Zherdev has just six on the season).

What about Zherdev’s 5-on-4 numbers?  They are as follow:

Season Team G/60 A1/60 A2/60 PTS/60
2007-08 Columbus 1.08 2.37 0.65 4.10
2008-09 N.Y. Rangers 0.54 0.54 1.07 2.14
2010-11 Philadelphia 1.11 2.21 0.00 3.32

Again, I’m compelled to use the word ‘interesting.’  Zherdev’s performance is unexceptional, but it straddles the line between his performances in Columbus and New York.  There’s nothing in the two tables above to suggest the kind of cataclysm that Zherdev’s numbers have been decimated by this season.

That changes when we consider ice-time:

Season Team EV TOI/Game PP TOI/Game
2007-08 Columbus 15:20 3:47
2008-09 N.Y. Rangers 13:46 3:00
2010-11 Philadelphia 11:49 1:01

That loss of power play time has had a horrendous impact on Zherdev’s counting totals.  Over the previous two years under consideration, Zherdev averaged 17 points on the man advantage.  This season, he has three.  In fact, if we bump Zherdev’s ice-time up to his Columbus levels (while keeping his scoring rates from this season) we see something of consequence happen to his stats line:

Season GP G A PTS
Current 54 16 6 22
Ice-time Adjusted 54 22 13 35

I very much doubt we would be hearing the kind of complaints about Zherdev that we’ve heard this season if he had 22 goals and 35 points instead of 22 points.  I also have no doubt that Zherdev would be putting up those kind of totals if he was getting the same ice-time he got earlier in his career.

Does this mean the coaching staff is handling Zherdev poorly?  Generally, I would say no, given the wealth of offensive talent on the team.  the one quibble I might have is with power play time: the Flyers power play has been sub-average this year, and while Zherdev’s not an elite point producer in those situations he has had periods of success in the past in that role.  The fault lies with Zherdev, if anyone: signing with such a deep offensive team was perhaps not the best career move he could have made.

Still, I remain a little shocked that Zherdev cleared waivers, even with the number of teams struggling through cap difficulties.  I’d suggest that (barring a lovely playoff run) he would be a good option for a team looking for a cheap top-six forward this summer.