As we eagerly await the fate of the enigmatic Russian winger Nikolai Zherdev, there has been countless speculation on whether or not his career with the New York Rangers will be coming to an end.
The other day, Zherdev, his agent, and the Rangers met with an arbitrator to decide what salary he should be granted for this season. It is believed that Zherdev is asking for a price between $4.5 and 5 million, while the Rangers want him to receive a salary no more then the $3.25 million that he made last season.
Who is in the right, here?
The Rangers are arguing that he is lazy, uncaring, and that he has no fire or will to win; that he is simply skating to collect a paycheck and that he only plays when he wants to.
He got off to a great start at the beginning of the season but managed to slump heavily in the latter stages, even as the Rangers surged from out of contention to a playoff spot. It is believed that he and Tortorella don't get along very well but it is only speculation.
Zherdev did not record a single point in the first round of the seven-game series versus the Washington Capitals, and only recorded one point, an assist, in the entire month of April. It is because of all this that he does not deserve a raise.
On the other hand, despite all the negativity mentioned above, Zherdev still managed to tie for the team lead in points scored (58) and finish one goal shy of the lead for goals scored (23).
When looking at those numbers, they are actually decent for a second line winger, which is what he was most of the season. He managed to sleepwalk through the final months of the season, yet still had good enough numbers to lead the team.
If he can ever get it all together, it is scary to think about the numbers he could put up. The potential for a 40-goal/80-point scorer is there, but it only comes in tiny bursts, never all at once. Zherdev's party will argue that he is due to break out and that his raise in salary will be worth it.
There really is no definitive answer as to who will win the case because it could be argued that both sides are in the wrong. The Rangers for low-balling him, and Zherdev for asking for too much.
Fellow Russian counterpart and former teammate with New York, Nik Antropov scored only one more point than Zherdev did last season and got a contract from Atlanta with an average salary of $4 million a season.
That is a reasonable amount for Zherdev to be awarded, but if that is the case, the Rangers will walk away. Afterwards, the arbitrator decided the parties have 48 hours to decide. If the Rangers choose to retain him, he gets the awarded salary. If they choose to let him walk, he then becomes an unrestricted free agent, and the market for him is very small.
It would be in the Rangers best interest to keep him only if the salary is around $3.5 million, but the numbers show that he deserves a little more. It could also be possible for them to retain him even at a high salary with the aspirations of trading him this offseason; a risky move but one Glen Sather may be willing to take.
Greg Caggiano is a writer on Bleacher Report covering the New York Rangers. He has a New York area sports teams blog called Metro-Sports, where you can read great articles about all professional sports teams that play in the area by a dedicated team of young writers.