Report: Blue Jackets' Zherdev signs with Russian team

Updated: July 20, 2006, 10:34 PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nikolai Zherdev apparently had made a backup plan.

According to a report in the Columbus Dispatch on Thursday, Zherdev has signed a contract to play in Russia next season should his negotiations with the Columbus Blue Jackets last an extended period.

Nikolai Zherdev

A restricted free agent, Zherdev inked a deal with Khimik Voskresensk of the Russian Superleague, agent Rolland Hedges told the newspaper. Hedges believes coming to terms on a new contract with Columbus could last well into training camp.

"Nikolai's first objective is to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets," Hedges told the Dispatch. "If he's not able to do that because of a contract or budget situation, this way he has a place to play."

Zherdev will be forced to play the entire season in Russia if he is not signed by the Blue Jackets by Oct. 5.

"I'm not worried about it," Columbus general manager Doug MacLean told the newspaper. "We'll attempt to sign him, but if we don't, we move on and he goes back to Russia for a year. There's no doubt we'd like to get him signed, though. We'll see."

A Ukrainian, Zherdev made $942,000 last season. He reportedly has been offered one- and two-year contracts but is seeking a longer deal.

"Nikolai likes it very well in Columbus," Hedges said. "He would prefer to be there for a longer term than has been presented."

Drafted fourth overall in 2003, Zherdev was one of Columbus' few scoring threats last season. The 21-year-old finished second on the team with 27 goals and tied Rick Nash for second with 54 points.

As a rookie in 2003-04, Zherdev scored 13 goals and 34 points in 57 games.

The Dispatch on Thursday also reported the Blue Jackets signed restricted free agent Jaroslav Balastik to a one-year, $525,000 contract.

A 2002 sixth-round pick, Balastik recorded 12 goals -- including seven on the power play -- and 10 assists in 66 games as a rookie in 2005-06. The 26-year-old Czech added three tallies and six points in 14 contests with Syracuse of the American Hockey League.