Does Zherdev make sense for the Wild?

Posted on August 6th, 2009 – 9:21 AM
By Michael Russo

Maybe. Maybe not, and probably leaning toward the latter.

Nikolai Zherdev, the 24-year-old winger and former first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is suddenly an unrestricted free agent after the New York Rangers on Tuesday walked away from his $3.9 million arbitration award.

Zherdev scored a career-high 27 goals with Columbus in 2005-06 and a career-high 61 points with Columbus in 2007-08. Last season with the Rangers, he scored 23 goals and 58 points but disappeared in the playoffs and was largely criticized for a perceived lack of drive and determination. Zherdev can be maddening at times because he is so talented and goes through streaks of ineffectiveness. 

At some point the Wild must make another move in my opinion, but the above red flags and one other has me thinking the team will stay away from him.

Zherdev would always be a risk to just bail for the Continental Hockey League (KHL) mid-contract. The KHL would undoubtedly be interested in him and as the league keeps proving with guys like Radulov and Hudler, it’s willing to take NHL players without regard to whether they’re under contract.

According to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks here, Zherdev was seeking $4.75 million in arbitration. As you can read in Larry’s column, he does an interesting analysis of that contract desire. According to Larry’s research, 22 wingers under contract next season will earn as much as $4.75 million, and 13 of those came when they were signed as UFA’s or pending UFA’s. Of the remaining nine, only three are under 25 and they are Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Carter and Corey Perry.

As Larry writes, Zherdev’s not in that league.

If it were my decision, I’d just pass on Zherdev and continue to look at the trade route.

GM Chuck Fletcher has been patient because he’d love to add a No. 2 center or scoring winger via trade, whether it’s before the season or inside the season. But another reason he hasn’t made a stopgap signing with an inferior player is in case something unforeseen happened, like this.

But as has been written here before, once your money’s spent, it’s spent. So since Zherdev’s such a huge risk, I think Fletcher will remain patient and continue to rely on the fact that the teams at or near the cap will at some point be forced to trade players.

In other words, if at some point you truly believe you can somehow trade for a Jon Cheechoo or a Patrick Sharp or a Phil Kessel or another upper-echelon player, then you’ve pretty much got to pass on Zherdev. Remember, if you sign Zherdev to anything close to the lucrative deal he wants long-term, you’re taking yourself out of the game for anything else.  

Fletcher declined comment on Zherdev. Zherdev’s agent hasn’t called me back yet.  

But like I said, I don’t think the Wild’s interested and will continue to wait. What that means is if Fletcher makes what he’s been calling his “play,” it’ll almost certainly go into training camp (or beyond) because the league typically (unofficically) shuts down in August. You’d be hard-pressed to find any GM’s in the office these days.

In other news, Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov has changed the spelling of his first name to Semyon. Deal with it :)

OK, I’m still on vacation and leaving town for some time. If any news breaks, the paper’s got you covered.

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