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11 марта 2008 года. 
Thrashers' Zhitnik, Waddell have 'trust' issues // The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Team's highest-paid defensemen irked about recent benching


Thrashers veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik sat expressionless and alone in the press box for most of the Thrashers' loss to Florida on Saturday.

It was the second consecutive game he was a healthy scratch and fourth time this season. Before this year, he'd gone 14 seasons without being a healthy scratch.

And for him, it's not fun. None of it.

"I'm not happy; I want to play," he said Monday. "It's not really fun to watch hockey from upstairs."

Head coach and general manager Don Waddell has given no indication that Zhitnik will return to the ice any time soon, making him one of the most well-paid spectators in the game.

He's the Thrashers' highest-paid defenseman, earning $3.5 million this season and next. And he can't crack the lineup of one of the most suspect defensive teams in hockey.

In what has been an up-and-down season, Zhitnik seems destined to end on a down, and he's not sure where it all went wrong.

"There's not one reason; basically, it's complex," Zhitnik said. "Take any other job, not hockey, not sports. If your boss trusts you, you feel comfortable and you do a good job. If your boss doesn't trust you, you're not really his guy, it's a whole different situation. For me, it's about trust."

And Zhitnik got a pretty good idea of where he stood with Waddell after Bob Hartley was fired.

Zhitnik played more than 24 minutes in four of the six games Hartley coached. Under Waddell, he's played more than 24 minutes just four times. In 64 games.

"Some players have to play 10 to 15 minutes because they can't play more," Zhitnik said. "Some players, they can play 25 to 27 minutes, but when they end up playing 15, they'll be dead fish in water. I wasn't ready for that kind of turnaround. Basically, I never recovered."

And yes, Zhitnik's play at times this season has been like a dead fish in water. Making it worse, the player Waddell sent to Philadelphia last season for Zhitnik, Braydon Coburn, has developed into a rising young star on the Flyers' blueline.

For a Thrashers organization that hasn't been able to develop its own top defensemen, it's a serious blow to see one slip away.

"We accomplished what we wanted to get last year," Waddell said in defense of the trade. "And we wanted to continue this year."

But it hasn't continued. And now, with the defense in need of rebuilding, Zhitnik's future is in doubt.

Waddell says he considers Zhitnik part of the plans for next season.

"Absolutely. Right now, there's no reason not to," he said.

No reason? How about the fact that he's getting $3.5 million to watch hockey? If Waddell changes his mind, he has options.

One is a buyout, which is unlikely because it's not much of a financial relief and salary-cap space doesn't seem to be an issue with the Thrashers.

Zhitnik's contract makes a trade unlikely, but the Thrashers could waive him. He'd be most appealing on re-entry waivers, where a team could split his salary with the Thrashers.

In New York, the Rangers worked out a deal with underachieving defenseman Darius Kasparaitis in which he was loaned to a Russian team for a fee.

Zhitnik said his top goal is still to win the Stanley Cup, and that's not happening by playing next year in Russia, his native country.

"I have played [in the NHL] for 15 years. I have another year on my contract," he said. "I wouldn't think to go anywhere else. I want to win a Stanley Cup. There are no Stanley Cups in Russia."

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