Nikolai Zherdev and the New York Rangers: A Wasted Asset

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,New York Rangers on August 4, 2009 — 3 Comments

Today, news broke that the New York Rangers have walked away from an arbitrator’s contract ruling of one-year, $3.9 million for Nikolai Zherdev.

From TSN:

The New York Rangers have decided to walk away from a salary arbitration ruling to Nikolai Zherdev, making the forward an unrestricted free agent.

Zherdev was awarded a one-year, $3.9 million contract following his hearing on Friday. He was looking for $4.75 million, while the Rangers were offering less than $3.2 million.

”With the additions we’ve been able to make this summer, we feel we’ve been able to add scoring and offense from the wing position,” Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather stated. ”Following the arbitration process and subsequent award given, we feel it is in our best interest to walk away and continue to explore all available options to improve our roster.”

First off, this is hardly a surprise.  Larry Brooks of the NY Post, among others, has been predicting this for some time now.  The Rangers, with their activity this off-season, clearly did not have Nikolai Zherdev as part of the team vision.

While I understand those sentiments, they seem short-sighted to me.  In order to explain myself, I am first going to post the Rangers’ possible top two lines heading into next season.

Line 1: Higgins-Dubinsky-Gaborik

Line 2: Avery-Drury-Kotalik

These lines are certainly formidable, but what if Marian Gaborik gets injured?  We all know how likely that is, and if it happens, the team will have a gaping hole up front. 

Just how big will that hole be? Well, the other five top forwards have collectively only exceeded the 30-goal mark on one occasion (Drury’s 37 in 2006/07). 

That is where Nikolai Zherdev comes in.  I know he is horrible defensively and I know he does not “bring it” every night; that much has been established around the National Hockey League.  That said, Zherdev has scored 99 career NHL goals and is only 24 (i.e., he is currently in the prime of his career).  Additionally, his career points-per-game is 0.65 and is fairly likely to improve, if not stay the same.

Even though Zherdev did not see eye-to-eye with coach John Tortorella (or even Tom Renney or Ken Hitchcock–yes I see the theme), he brings offensive talent to the table and could certainly be of use to some team in the NHL. 

My argument against the Rangers’ decision today is that the team is wasting an asset.  Today the Rangers decided to give away Zherdev without receiving any compensation in return. The Rangers have allowed a 24-year old talented winger, with 99 career goals before his 25th birthday, to leave town for nothing.

His $3.9 million salary award, while high, was not exorbitant.  The team does have to sign Brandon Dubinsky, but getting under the salary cap was workable if the team really wanted to do just that.

Now the Rangers are left with a lack of offense if Gaborik gets injured (fairly likely) and have received nothing of value in return for the talented Zherdev (Fedor Tyutin: Where art thou?).  Even if they could not have acquired anything for his services right now, every team incurs injuries during the course of the season and I’m sure, at least a few teams, would have been willing to trade something of value for Zherdev (with only a one-year contract commitment) for the stretch drive.

In today’s day, when asset management is so important, I believe the Rangers erred in the decision to let Nikolai Zherdev go for nothing.

  • pemoco

    How does Sather still have a job? Clearly a candidate for the worst tenure by a sports executive ever. 2 playoff series wins in 10 years? On his 5th coach? Stuck in cap hell for the forseeable future? Good times!! Someone want to ask him how he’s going to sign Higgins, Dubinsky, Girardi and Staal with basically no money coming off the cap? No worries, Kotalik and Brashear will be under contract….

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Richard

    Not saying I would have signed Kotalik to that 3-year, $9 million contract but I can at least understand it somewhat. The Brashear contract I just do not understand. They gave him $1.4 million a year, for two years. Why? I don’t understand. Especially in light of the above decision.

  • pemoco

    Looking at Glen Sather’s body of work, he willingly went along with numerous deals that defy logic. Was $3.9 million for Zherdev? I don’t think so, but I understanding the position of those who disagree with me. However, when you look at the contracts handed out to Rozsival, Redden, Drury, Gomez – and even more modest examples of Brashear, Kotalik, Rissmiller, Votos, etc. – then this move is the exception, not the rule.

    Suddenly Sather is a shining beacon of common sense in the salary cap era? Why does the NY media put a positive spin on walking away from Zherdev for no return as some sort of example of fiscal common sense? The risk-reward of keeping Zherdev, the team’s leading scorer, for one more season – this one with a coach who will actually practice the powerplay – makes the deal the Rangers have walked away from far more attractive than the ones listed above that have put the team in cap hell.

    Please, someone, make this man retire.