Posts tagged: Nik Zherdev

Accountability, Thy Name is Zherdev

One of the main reasons why we here at BSB were so excited about John Tortorella becoming head coach of our beloved Blueshirts was because he would finally make his skill players accountable for their actions and effort on the ice. Too many times did we see lackadaisical efforts go unpunished by Tom Renney (no offense to the Renney lovers, but this was so true it hurt).

All that changed during Thursday’s game with the Predators. First, we saw a change in the lines, as Markus Naslund was dropped to the 3rd line for his inability, thus far, to keep up with the demands on the ice of Torts. You can argue that this happened during the game against Carolina on Tuesday, but it was official for the starting lineups on Thursday.

But the accountability factor really took hold in the first period against Nashville. Nikolai Zherdev, probably the most skilled Ranger, had a lackluster effort throughout the period, which led to a terrible turnover and a goal against. From that point on, Zherdev saw just 6 minutes of playing time for the remainder of the first, and didn’t play at all for the rest of the game. There were several times when the cameras panned in on Zherdev, who looked like someone shot his puppy.

To this, I say, Bravo Torts. It’s about time the star players got punished for not trying. It sure did light a fire under Gomez, who has been the best Ranger not named Sean Avery or Henrik Lundqvist in the past few games. For this team to win, Gomez needs to be at the top of his game, and that is exactly where he is right now.

I am a fan of Zherdev, and if the Rangers resign him, his will be the next jersey I purchase (with the need to retire my Prucha jersey). He is young, skilled, and exciting to watch, when he puts forth the effort. He, along with the rest of the Rangers, need to give 110% every game for the remainder of the season just to make the playoffs, so there is no room for any one player to just mail it in.

Kudos to Torts, kudos to accountability.

SEAN SEAN….GET IN THERE SEAN!!!!

So today is the day Sean Avery presumably clears waivers and will be assigned to an AHL affiliate of some sort.  As you all know, the Wolfpack seem to be the front (and only) runners to pick-up the agitator, which will begin the chain of events that may ultimately end in #16 returning to the Big Club.  While my colleague David is mainly opposed to this, I could not be more in favor of this move.  My man-crush for Sean Avery and his legend aside, it is a necessary move for THIS team THIS season.  Here’s how it could work, and here’s why it has to work:

1. There have been few cold-hard undeniable facts for these Rangers in the post-lockout era.  These include (but are not limited to): a) Henrik Lundqvist being a top-5 goaltender in the league b) Tom Renney sacrificing offense for defense 99% of the time c) the Rangers are a better team with Sean Avery in their lineup.  The statistics do not lie: with Avery in the lineup, the Rangers are 51-23-16.  Without him, they are 8-10-3, not to mention the Rangers missing that extra “something.”  Just watch a game this season and you will know what I’m talking about.

2.  The Rangers do not have to resign all those players previously mentioned.  If this season has proved anything, its that the majority of Rangers are expendable (Scott Gomez and Chris Drury trade rumors anyone).  The only members of the group previously mentioned that must be re-signed are Big Z, Dubie, Staal, and Girardi.  While I like Dawes, Korpo, and Cally, you can find another other young player in the farm-system to come in and play their role.

3.  The Rangers would only be on the take for half of Avery’s salary, roughly $2 million per year.  When you consider this is only a minor raise from what he was initially getting with the Rangers and a cut from what they wanted to give him in the offseason, its an acceptable number.  If the Rangers choose to re-negotiate his contract, either for less years or less money, they have a distinct negotiating advantage.  Not many teams will take Avery at this point, and he probably realizes that and history shows this can be a productive marriage.  Put whatever clauses and incentives you want into the contract.  They will have the upper-hand in any contract talk they engage in.  So saving money against the cap won’t necessarily be that difficult.  They can also unload either Redden or Roszival in this deal.  While their contracts are long and fat, that’s the price you must pay for giving top-tier money for 2 players that are obviously not top-tier and bring very little to the team.  Those contracts are going to haunt the Rangers one way or another; better haunt them in an effort to make the team genuinely better.  Also, the salary cap will predictably go up, so the value of Avery’s cap hit will be decreased.

4.  The Rangers are vanilla.  As evidenced on Friday night, nobody respects this team.  You can do whatever you wish to them, and will pay virtually no consequences.  Say what you want about Avery in the locker room, but he always came to his teammate’s defense on the ice, and as an opponent, you probably always thought twice about engaging in something with one of the Rangers for plain-old fear of what Avery might say or do to you.  And if he has made the progress in his rehab everybody says he’s making, he will learn to channel his tactics in a productive manner.  He has also hopefully learn from the past mistakes he made in NY.

5.  Avery has skills.  He has better than average speed, a quick release, is tough and gritty, and can throw off a opposing team’s star player on any given night (see Brodeur, Martin; Kovalchuk, Ilya).  Enough of this Aaron Voros “poor-man’s Sean Avery” garbage and just go get the real thing.  He also puts it on the line every single night, evidenced by playing the majority of a playoff game with a lacerated spleen.  I work in medicine, and that is something that can kill you.

6. Fans (myself immensely included) love this guy.  Since the lockout, you can count on one hand the number of players that get their name chanted during a game at the Garden: Henrik, Shanny, whoever is getting their jersey retired that year, and Avery.  Maybe I’m missing a name here or there, but you get my drift.

Finding comparable contracts for Zherdev

zherdevOne of the biggest issues facing GM Glen Sather this coming offseason is the contract status of stud winger Nikolai Zherdev. The 24 year old is in the final year of the three year, $7.5M deal he signed while with Columbus and will be a restricted free agent after the season, and we already know that the team is trying to lock him up long-term. There is some concern that he could bolt for the KHL, since teams in the Russian league can offer ginormous amounts of money in an effort to steal away players from the NHL (see Malkin, Evgeni).

We’ve seen some of the flakiness that reported plagued Zherdev with the Blue Jackets, as he was visibly pressing and frustrated at times this season. Even though he shows outstanding hands, the goal scoring hasn’t been there as hoped this year (he just snapped a 14 game goal drought). He has done a better job in his own zone, tying for the team lead with a +6. Even though he can enigmatic, he leads the team in scoring and his talent is clearly worth keeping around.

What I want to do is try to get a feel for what kind of contract offer Zherdev can expect from the Rangers after the season. I did this by finding similar aged players who signed long term deals after posting statistically similar seasons to Zherdev. I considered the three seasons before each player signed their deal, roughly approximating an entry-level deal. Granted, this isn’t the most scientific method in the world, but if nothing else it at least gives us a ballpark figure.

The table below is a quick summary of three similar players and how they performed prior to hitting the jackpot. The table reads chronologically left-to-right, so Year 3 is the season right before the player signed long-term, Year 2 is the season before that, and Year 1 the season before that. The age listed is the player’s age when they signed their fat contract.

Player Age Year 1 GP-G-A-PT Year 2 GP-G-A-PT Year 3 GP-G-A-PT Contract
Dustin Brown 23 79-14-14-28 81-17-29-46 78-33-27-60 6 yrs, $19M
Martin Erat 26 80-20-29-49 68-16-41-57 76-23-34-57 7 yrs, $31.5M
Derek Roy 24 70-18-28-46 75-21-42-63 78-32-49-81 6 yrs, $24M
Average 24.3 77-17-24-41 75-18-37-55 77-29-37-66 6 yrs, $24.8M

And now, Zherdev:

Zherdev 24 71-10-22-32 82-26-35-61 82-21-46-67* ?

* stats for Year 3 are his projected totals for this season, which I got off his ESPN Player Page.

First thought: holy cow did the Kings get a helluva deal on Dustin Brown. Second though, Zherdev fits right in with these players. He lags a little bit in the goal scoring department in his “contract year,” but the point totals are right there. Of course there’s a chance that Zherdev gets hot over the season’s final two months and eclipses that projection, but there’s always a chance he underperforms it too.

So does six years and $24M sound fair? Yeah, it does. Maybe five years, $20M sounds a little more reasonable, but that sixth year might be what it takes to keep him from heading back to the Motherland. I’ll leave contract details like annual payout (a backloaded deal would ease the cap burden) and no-movement protection (no, please) to the professionals. The framework of a five or six year deal with an average annual value around $4M does seem to make sense for both parties, however.

What do you think, too much, too little?

Locking up Z Long Term

As per Larry Brooks, the Rangers have begun contract talks with Nikolai Zherdev. Zherdev, who will be an RFA after this year, is in the final year of his 3 year/$7.5 million contract signed while with Columbus. The Rangers appear to be happy with Zherdev, and Zherdev appears to be happy in New York:

“I’m very happy here. I like the team. I like the guys. I like living here. Everything is good.”

The Rangers would be doing themselves a service by locking him up now instead of waiting until the end of the year. By waiting, they take the risk of allowing a team with minimal cap commitments (such as the Islanders) to offer Zherdev a huge contract.

Zherdev is by far the most skilled player on the team, and at 24, he’s just going to get better. Locking him up long term would be a much needed terrific move by Sather.

The Young Guns

It’s time to get a mid season review of the Rangers present and future. Not the prospects, but the current Rangers that are considered by most to be the future of the team.

Ryan Callahan: 44 GP, 12 G, 4 A, 16 Pts, -2, 24 PIM, 127 SOG. Tied for 2nd on the team in goals (with Drury and Zherdev), trailing only Naslund (14 G). This kid takes a ton of shots (2nd on the team), and has really been playing well. As we all have noticed, he is a hustler and a grinder with a scoring touch. He may actually have a shot at 20 G this year.

Nigel Dawes:34 GP, 7 G, 8 A, 15 Pts, +5, 15 PIM, 57 SOG. Dawes had a terrible start, and even saw some time in the press box this year, something that none of us expected. His play has turned around though, and he is really clicking on a line with Drury and Prucha. He is also tied for 2nd on the team in +/-, and one of 3 Rangers on the plus side of that stat.

Brandon Dubinsky: 44 GP, 6 G, 17 A, 23 Pts, -2, 49 PIM, 110 SOG. After a hot start, Dubinsky has fallen back to earth, and hard. His goal on Saturday was his first in 19 games, and his second since October 24. He is still on a 10 G, 30 A pace, which is about on par with his performance last year while playing with Jagr. His future is probably on the wing once Anisimov arrives.

Dan Girardi: 44 GP, 3 G, 13 A, 16 Pts, -3, 15 PIM, 75 SOG. Girardi is another youngin that got off to a torrid start (well torrid for a defensemen who went undrafted), and has gracefully fallen back to earth. He is on pace to set career highs (in all of his two seasons) in assists and points. Girardi has been tagged by most as one of the three reliable defensemen on this team. He has been very solid, and that -3 is only really due to the fact that the Rangers team forgot how to play defense in December.

Lauri Korpikoski 32 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 Pts, -3, 6 PIM, 27 SOG. Korpikoski has some great potential that was being wasted on the fourth line with the offensively challenged Betts and Orr. After his demotion, and then call up, in November, he has played well, and finally broke his scoring drought with a rip from the circle on Saturday. This kid is going to be good, he just needs some playing time.

Marc Staal: 44 GP, 1 G, 6 A, 7 Pts, +6, 30 PIM, 78 SOG. What else can be said about Staal? The best Staal not named Eric (and some day might be better than Eric), he has proven to be everything and then more than we expected. His defensive play is the best on the team by far, and his offensive skills are starting to show. Staal has been seen making crisp first passes, carrying the puck himself, and even planting himself in front of the net. The Rangers better lock him up long term. I’m not alone in looking forward to a defensive core of Staal, Del Zotto, Sanguinetti and Girardi.

Graduating from the youngster group: Petr Prucha (4th season).

Side note: I was going to include Nik Zherdev in this group, but he’s in his 5th year. But don’t discount the fact that Zherdev is the future 40 G/100 Pt player on this team. The kid is 24 and keeps getting better.

Special teams aren’t so special

14.0% power play efficiency, second worst in the conference and fifth worst overall
12 shorthanded goals allowed, worst in the league

What in the world is going on here? The Blueshirts have had the third most power play opportunities in the league (179), yet are one of the worst teams when it comes to capitalizing on those chances (25 PPG). Even more alarming is the number of shorthanded goals they’ve allowed. Last night it cost them yet again, as Alexander the Great skated in seemingly untouched and beat Valli with a wrister from the top of the circle. It was the twelfth shortie they’ve allowed this year, double what any other team in the conference has allowed. What’s going on here?

For starters, the guys who are supposed to be doing the job just aren’t. Scott Gomez has seven power play points, all assists. Chris Drury also has seven PP points, and Wade Redden has just five. That’s just 19 PP points out of your three highest paid skaters, totaling $20,907,143 in salary this season. The Rangers’ leaders in power play scoring – Nik Zherdev, Markus Naslund & Michal Rozsival have eight PP points each – are tied for 130th in the NHL in PP scoring.

Secondly, the team just doesn’t have a true quarterback back there. Redden was that guy in like, ’05-’06, but not any more. Marc Staal just isn’t that kind of player, although Paul Mara has been decent. None of these guys are elite puck movers however, and in today’s NHL that element of the game is crucial. This is where the Jay Bouwmeester conversation starts, but would they really give up a package of two or three young players/draft picks for a guy they’ll almost certainly lose to free agency after the year because they don’t have enough cap room? I’m not sure, but it’s clear something needs to happen in this department.

The third problem is just philosophy and decision making. When a baseball team falls into a hitting funk, they go back to the basics: hit and runs, bunts, stolen bases. Hockey’s not much different. Obviously it’s much easier said then done, but when your power play isn’t doing much of anything just go back to the basics: shoot from the point and crash the net. When you try to do to much you end up doing less.

The Rangers have the ingredients to be a Cup contender. They have three lines with the potential to put the puck in the net and a fourth that will work the opposition to the bone. They have a shut down defenseman and four other solid blueliners. They have veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm up and down the roster. They have a dynamite penalty kill (best in the league at 87.8%). They have a world class netminder and a rock solid backup. All that said, this team is going nowhere until they get the power play straightened out.

Mike Axisa writes for River Ave. Blues and can be reached here.

The Odd Joys of Even

It’s amazing how much we as fans rejoice when we see that players are on the plus side of the +/-stat. Nick Lidstrom has been hovering around +182,000 for his career, and he’s going down as one of top defensemen of all time.

The Rangers as a team are -75. This, unlike Nick Lidstrom’s +182,000 above, is not an exaggeration. The Rangers are really -75 this season, with four, count em (Staal, Zherdev, Dawes, Betts), four players on the positive side. Let that sink in for a while….

Ok. Now that you have at least spent some time, probably about one second, thinking about that, let’s break it down further. Who’s the worst culprit?

Do I really need to answer that?

Dmitri Kalinin, whipping boy around these parts, is an astonishing -16 (see: Kalinin Count) with no goals and six assists all season. I have a higher tolerance for an abysmal +/- if the player is at least producing or has been injured (see: Rozsival, Michael).

So what can you do with Kalinin? Trade him? Fat chance. No one wants to pay $2.1 million for the 766th best +/- in the NHL (out of 769). Waiving him is the best option. Send him to Hartford, maybe he can remember how to play defense again. Let Potter replace him permanetly. It will save cap room, and provide a more stable defensive corps. I like to call that two birds, one stone.

It actually makes you wonder why Sather signed and overpaid for the Sabres reject.

Kalinin isn’t the sole offender in atrocious +/-, the other negative double digit offenders are Rozsival (-11) and Gomez (-10). In Gomer’s case, he was -7 for two games in a row. Eliminate those games, he’s a -3, which is what you expect from Gomez. As for Rozsival, refer to two paragraphs above.

Back to Kalinin, I understand that Renney wants to show confidence in his players. But enough is enough. Let Kalinin go. Please. We will do anything for a replacement that is just even.