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Nikolai Zherdev and the New York Rangers: A Wasted Asset

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.