As we reported on this site yesterday, Nik Zherdev’s decision to take the Rangers to arbitration may spell the end of his time in a blueshirt. Reports surfacing that Zherdev and his agent will ask for a salary of 4.5 million dollars for next season have caused many following the team to speculate today that if he is awarded that number that the Rangers will almost surely walk away from the decision, making him an unrestricted free agent and freeing up 3.25 million in cap space for the upcoming season. Personally, I have felt from the beginning that the Rangers should have offered this money to Nik Antropov (who signed a 4 year 16 million dollar deal with the Thrashers last week) in an attempt to re-sign the big winger rather than qualify Zherdev, who disappeared last season in the playoffs and at times looked disinterested while playing under head coach John Tortorella. If Zherdev loses his case, having him for one year in which he must prove his worth with a pending unrestricted free agency in his sights, may pay divideneds and finally motivate the enigmatic winger. If he wins and the team decides to part ways, there are a few different avenues the team might take in looking to replace Zherdev’s offensive production. The least expensive and possibly most exciting to Rangers fans might be to give Evgeny Grachev a shot to continue his offensive growth at the NHL level. If the team feels Grachev is not yet ready for prime time or is looking for a more proven commodity, they could look to veteran wingers Petr Sykora (who had 25 goals in 76 games last season with the Penguins and put up 16 goals and 31 points in 40 games in his other stint with the team in 2005-06) or Miroslav Satan (who had 17 goals last season with the Penguins) who could probably be had for one year deals at a very cap friendly price. The team could even go way outside the box and convince former All-Star Mark Parrish (who finished last season in Dallas and has scored 20+ goals six times in his career) to sign with the team on a two way deal for the minimum hoping to maybe pull a diamond from the scrap heap. Another possible move should Zherdev leave is to revisit the Dany Heatley trade situation (highly unlikely still because of the Rangers reluctance to part with any of their prized prospects and Senators GM Bryan Murray’s absurd asking price, which even with his lack of leverage, seems to grow steeper each day) but some money would have to be moved in order to fit his contract in cap wise.
There has been no other news on the Rangers possible pursuit of Saku Koivu and Sergei Zubov or of any movement on rumored possible trades involving Dallas’ Brad Richards or San Jose’s Patrick Marleau. If any word on these moves or others come down, we’ll have all the details for you right here.
UPDATE (4:35 PM)- Although he was never a Ranger, Joe Sakic signed an offer sheet with the Rangers that if it wasn’t ultimately matched by Colorado would have changed the history of the franchise. Reports out of Colorado say that Sakic will announce his retirement from the NHL at a press conference on Thursday. We will have more on this news after his announcement. Congratulations on a classy Hall of Fame career Mr. Sakic.