NHL News: Could Little Nik be Reunited with Big Nik in Atlanta?

Unrestricted free agent Nikolai Zherdev still hasn't found a new home for the 2009-2010 NHL season, but according to an interview with the winger on Russian site Sport-Express, he could be just days away from inking an NHL pact. The 24-year old winger reports that he has a number of options on the table, but is most interested in joining the Atlanta Thrashers, where he'd be part of a Russian-speaking contingent that includes fellow former Ranger Nikolai Antropov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. Zherdev, who has spent the past few weeks training with Kovalchuk in Moscow, suggests that a one year deal with the Thrashers is his most likely option for the upcoming campaign. That should serve as a pretty good indication that the offer on the table is nowhere near the reported $4.5m payday he was seeking from the Rangers.

- What’s the situation with your future?

- Negotiations are underway with several teams, but for the time being I’m in limbo — no contract has been signed.  I hope that everything will be settled in the next 2-3 days.

- Is it possible to say that you’ll definitely remain in the NHL?

- Yes, now it’s only a matter of NHL clubs.  With Russian teams the question is closed.

- In the North American press there is conjecture that you could be excellent in combination with Kovalchuk and Antropov in Atlanta.

- The most serious dialog goes on with the Thrashers.  It’s true there are other options.  But personally I would like to end up in Atlanta, where several good Russian players play.  It would be comfortable and pleasant to play with them.

- Have you already talked to Kovalchuk about this topic?

- I’m actively preparing for the season with him now, and of course I asked him about the city and the conditions on the team.  Ilya, naturally, invites me to Atlanta with all his might (laughs). The company could indeed turn out to be first class.  As you know I played last season with Antropov on the Rangers, we even shared a room [on the road].  And there’s also Vyacheslav Kozlov.  Most likely, I’ll sign a contract with the Thrashers for one year — to begin with, it’s necessary to familiarize myself [with the team/city].

Zherdev goes on to discuss his recent snub by national team head coach Vyacheslav Bykov, who failed to invite the flashy but flighty forward to Russia's Olympic camp this past weekend, and vows to earn a trip to Vancouver with his play over the first half of the season.  For the full translation, see Beyond the Blueshirts.