Bruins: Zinovjev Not Worth Asking Price
Ak Bars' Sergei Zinovjev (#42)
From today's Worcester Telegram & Gazette, about the Bruins' on-going flirtation with Russian superstar Sergei Zinovjev:
The Bruins still own the NHL rights to the 27-year-old center, who has become a bona fide star for Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian Super League, and just finished playing a starring role in Russia’s bronze-medal finish at the World Championships.
A third-round pick by Boston in the 2000 draft, Zinovjev now rakes in a cool tax-free $2.5 million in a country where the average schmuck earns about 50 bucks (U.S.) a week. According to Zinovjev’s North American agent, Rollie Hedges, that salary works out to roughly $5 million a year over here.
So, the questions are threefold: (a) Can the Bruins afford him? (b) Is Zinovjev worth that kind of money? And, the biggie: (c) Can the 27-year-old forward be persuaded to leave his native country and return to the NHL, which he left with a bitter taste in his mouth back in 2003, shortly after the Bruins signed him to a two-year contract?
The answers, according to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, are no, no, and probably no.
"He can play in the NHL," Chiarelli added, "but circumstances dictate that he probably won’t."
At least not now, because even Chiarelli — a lawyer who rarely rules out anything — insists that Zinovjev, despite his rock-star status in Russia, isn’t worth $5 million in the NHL right now.
"No, he’s not, because he’s unproven," Chiarelli said. "He’s proven himself over there and makes a lot of money, but he’s unproven over here."
Assuming they can’t sign Zinovjev, the Bruins still would like to get something in return before their NHL rights to him expire on July 1, 2008. That could mean packaging the rights with an established player — goalie Hannu Toivonen comes to mind, especially if the B’s are as certain as everyone else about the bright future of 20-year-old Finnish sensation Tuukka Rask — and get a proven NHL talent in return from a rival team.
Or, they could take the rights to Zinovjev, add their No. 8 pick in Friday’s NHL Draft, and move up to one of the top three spots and get a sure-fire contributor to add to their ever-growing stable of impressive youngsters. As it stands now, Chicago, Philadelphia and Phoenix own picks No. 1, 2 and 3.
Chiarelli said, "In addition to talking to Rollie Hedges, we’ve talked to every team in the NHL. There has been some interest at some level, but his salary in Russia is a deterrent."
NHL scouts who have seen a lot of Zinovjev think he could step in and be the third-line center for the Bruins right now, behind Marc Savard and Patrice Bergergon. And that’s as a relatively raw commodity.
If, as expected, he grows in size, strength and ability during his interaction with the NHL’s best players, who knows how good he could become?
Unfortunately, in terms of popularity right now in Russia, he’s a 21st-century Yuri Gagarin. And he doesn’t sound like he plans to leave orbit anytime soon.
The Bruins don’t have a lot of time to make a decision here. Russian teams begin their training camps on July 1, according to Hedges, and are making preparations even as this column is being written. Something would have to happen in a matter of days, perhaps even hours, and given the gulf between Zinovjev’s Russian salary and what he’d be offered in North America, that’s way too much territory to cover in that short a time.
Click here to read the rest of the article, which goes into a good amount of detail about Zinovjev's stint with the Bruins from a few years back, both in Boston and in Providence (Zinovjev: "There may be only five or six players in the AHL capable of making a good pass"), as well as his history of marijuana troubles.