Arbitrator Elliott Shiftman has awarded Nikolai Zherdev with a $3.9M contract for the 2009-10 season, which means that Glen Sather will have until tomorrow to decide whether Zherdev will be playing on Broadway next season for $3.9M or become an unrestricted free agent by mid-week.
According to Larry Brooks of the NY Post, the Rangers are roughly $6M under the cap without considering the upcoming contract that will surely be signed by center Brandon Dubinsky. Is Zherdev worth basically the rest of the Rangers’ cap space? Is he the difference maker, next to Marian Gaborik, that will help propel this anemic offense in his second season in New York?
While his struggles were magnified under new coach John Tortorella, I don’t think its fair to kick him to the side so quickly. Playing under the scrutiny of the big city is tough for a young player, especially when he’s under the pressure to carry one of the league’s flagship franchises offensively all while adjusting mid-season to a brand new coaching style.
With Gaborik, the Rangers have their primary offensive focal point that allows Zherdev to slip into the number-two slot as far as goal-scorers are concerned. We could be looking at a tandem that will create matchup nightmares for opposing teams on a nightly basis.
Sure, Z had his highs and lows last season, but I think the soon-to-be 25-year-old deserves a second chance to light the lamp in the Garden. And at $3.9M, the potential reward could far outweigh the risk.