Beyond the Blueshirts is one of the most informative Ranger blogs on the web, especially when it comes to providing insight on the Russian hockey world. For example, yesterday’s post regarding the possibility of the Rangers bringing back Nikolai Zherdev for a second tour of duty after the team refused to match the salary awarded to the Russian dangler in arbitration last summer.
In an interview in Sport Express , published Monday, Nazarov revealed that New York Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather asked him for his opinion on three players from the KHL which he claims the Rangers are interested in. “After the game in Newark, I had a long conversation with the president of the Rangers, founder of the Edmonton dynasty of the 1980s, Glen Sather,” Nazarov shared. “He asked my expert opinion on three hockey players from the KHL which the Rangers seek to acquire.”
The article’s author, Igor Larin, fuels speculation by including the the following (unsourced) note after Nazarov’s comment: “According to some reports, the president of the Rangers is interested in Nikolai Zherdev from Atlanta.”
After the way Zherdev (who notched 39 points in 52 games this season for Atlanta) and the Rangers parted this summer, following benchings at the hands of head coach John Tortorella, it seems odd that the team would be interested in re-signing a man whose name often appears in the vicinity of the word “enigmatic.” Yet the team’s unacceptable lack of skill, talent, and as a result, offense, could be enough to heal even these relatively fresh wounds.
It’s difficult to say at this point before the season’s end, the draft, and free agency, whether or not bringing back Zherdev makes sense. Even the status of Tortorella himself is not exactly clear as far as next season goes. What is possible at this point, though, is establishing the terms under which a Zherdev return could be feasible.
Much like this season’s edition, the '08-'09 Rangers were a very weak offensive team. Without a single legitimate first-line forward on the team, Zherdev was one of the players who fans expected quite a bit out of. Now, with Marian Gaborik on the team to lead the way offensively, perhaps the team and the team’s fans can accept Zherdev for what he is and what he can do, rather than be frustrated because of what he can’t do.
If fans can accept that he’s a streaky, 55-65 point-per-season player who isn’t going to be much of a factor defensively, then there shouldn’t be a problem. While that may not be an ideal player, sometimes you have to take what you can get, and the Rangers don’t have many options to choose from as far as offense goes. In a second-line role, Zherdev could draw less attention from opposing defenses, as well.
Zherdev spent much of last season playing with the likes of Brandon Dubinsky, Aaron Voros, and Scott Gomez. None of those players were ideal linemates for Zherdev. If the team could place him in a position where he could get some help in the offensive zone, it stands to figure that he’d be a lot more successful.
One trio that seems to make sense would see Zherdev line up on the right side of Artem Anisimov with Dubinsky on the left wing. Dubinsky, today, is a better player than he was when he played with Zherdev, and Anisimov will only get better next season. His skill set seems like it could be a good fit with Zherdev’s.
As long as Zherdev isn’t being paid too much, then it’s hard to imagine him being much of a disappointment. The Rangers offered $3.2 last season. Something like $3 or $3.5 million per season would be a fair number. Anything more and it might not be worth the investment.
As for the other KHLers that the Rangers might be interested in, some names to think about might be Anton Babchuk and Alexander Radulov. Babchuk, who scored 16 goals in 72 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season, is a defenseman with a booming shot that could be what the Rangers wanted Ales Kotalik to be when they signed the hockey sense-challenged winger last summer. Babchuk had 22 points in 49 games for Avangard Omsk this season.
Radulov, who has played two consecutive seasons for Salavat Ufa, scored 58 points in 2007-08. It was just his second NHL season, playing for the Nashville Predators, who still own his rights. Should Radulov choose to return to the NHL, it’s tough to imagine him coming back to the Predators. If they were to trade his rights, he’s a player the Rangers would have to be interested in.