Nikolay Zherdev is the type of player that divides a management and coaching group. On one hand, he is an ultra-talented player who can stick-handle in a phone booth and carry the puck effortlessly. Management sees this strength, sees his ability to control the puck when pressured and sees him as a positive addition to a hockey club. On the other hand, a coaching staff sees Zherdev on a day-to-day basis, sees his vast potential to have a direct impact on a hockey game but only so often do they see that potential come to fruition. A coach sees a gift being wasted by relative indifference.
This, of course, is human nature. Coaches want to get the absolute most from their players. They hold each player to different expectations based upon their respective talent levels. Dan Bylsma holds Sidney Crosby to a different standard than Tyler Kennedy because he sees Crosby's ability to become an all-time NHL great. This is exactly what has happened with Nikolay Zherdev in his NHL stops in Columbus, New York and Philadelphia.
In Columbus, Ken Hitchcock became increasingly frustrated with Zherdev's defensive play, probably overlooking the fact that Zherdev's puck possession was, in essence, a defensive skill. His ability to play keep-away meant that the other team did not have the puck and the ability to score. Hitchcock also saw Zherdev as lazy. He held Zherdev to a top-10 NHL draft pick standard and did not want to accept him for what he was: an extremely gifted hockey player with flaws.
Look at Zherdev's ice-time during his four seasons in Columbus:
Season TOI Rank (CBJ forwards)
2003-04 16:10 7th
2005-06 17:35 4th
2006-07 16:13 5th
2007-08 19:22 2nd