A year ago, when the Rangers acquired Nik Zherdev from Columbus, the knock on the young russian was that he had tons of talent but lacked the heart and work ethic to truly reach his potential in the NHL. Earlier today, Glen Sather decided that the Rangers would not be the organization stuck waiting for him to improve those weak spots for another season.
The Rangers have decided to walk away from the arbitrator’s $3.9 million dollar award making Zherdev an unrestricted free agent and ending his tenure on Broadway after one disappointing season full of stretches of uninspired play, sulking and a complete disappearing act during the postseason by the enigmatic winger.
While Zherdev seemed to be off to a great start with the club last season, saying and doing all the right things under coach Tom Renney, he still found it hard to bring a consistent effort and results to the ice every night. After Renney was replaced by John Tortorella at mid-season, Zherdev found himself in the coach’s doghouse on many occassions and seemed disinterested in subscribing to the team’s new attacking style of play. By playoff time, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Zherdev was not going to be part of the team’s future plans if Tortorella had any input on personnel changes during the offseason.
GM Glen Sather qualified Zherdev before the deadline last month but the winger and his agent decided he was worth more than the team’s $3.25 million dollar tender (even after his uneven first season) and elected to go to arbitration with an outrageous $4.75 million dollar proposal (most likely designed to make the Rangers walk away from the decision no matter the outcome). It seems today as if Zherdev got his wish of leaving NY and possibly returning to Russia for an even bigger payday in the upstart KHL.
In my opinion, the Rangers made the right move in letting Zherdev walk. To bring back a player who obviously was not on board with the coach’s philosophy just because there was a chance of a breakout season offensively would have been a huge mistake. While this move could come back to haunt the team should Zherdev sign with another eastern conference club, more than likely the cap space savings by letting him go will allow the team to re-sign a key player like Brandon Dubinsky and maybe even pick up a badly needed physical presence on the blue line and will make the team a much stronger group for the upcoming season. My prediction is Ales Kotalik will thrive playing with former teammate Chris Drury and will soften the blow from the loss of Zherdev and Rangers fans will appreciate his work ethic much more than the departed playmaker he will be replacing.