Where Sather Went Right: The Zherdev Deal

Part One.

In the past week, I wrote three pieces on where GM Glen Sather went wrong during his stay in New York, post-lockout. I received a few emails and some comments about being biased and not pointing out where Sather went right, so let’s consider the next three posts to be spin-offs: Where Sather went right. It is obvious that Slats’ weakness is reading markets and finding comparable market value for free agents, and sometimes this overshadows his other moves that turned the Rangers from laughing stock into playoff contender.

In the 2008 offseason, the Rangers made plenty of moves, including the signing of Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin, and the re-signing of Michal Rozsival and Paul Mara. Include those with the other Rangers blue liners, and all of a sudden, the Rangers had a glut of defensemen, and not many forwards that could put the puck in the net. On July 1, 2008, the Rangers traded Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman for Nik Zherdev (and Dan Fritsche).

Tyutin was a solid, young defenseman that hit people and could chip in offensively from time to time, and Zherdev was an offensively gifted player that seemed to have run his course in Columbus. The Rangers were dealing from a strength (blue line depth) to address a severe weakness that was left with the departure of Jaromir Jagr. That is how a good GM fills holes on the team; dealing from a strength to address a weakness.

Although Zherdev’s stay in New York was enigmatic at best, few could deny his ability. When he wanted to be, Zherdev was a game-breaker. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the mind to go with the ability, and it left Rangers fans frustrated. As for Tyutin, he had a great season in Columbus last year, putting up solid offensive numbers while playing the good defense us in New York had become accustomed to. This year, he is still contributing offensively, but that defense has slipped a bit.

What isn’t widely publicized about Zherdev is that after the Rangers walked away from his $3.9 million arbitration award, he came back to Slats, asking to play for the initial $3.25 million contract the Rangers offered prior to arbitration. The Rangers said no, and Zherdev bolted for the KHL. (Note: I’m still looking for the Larry Brooks article that mentions this, I can’t find it. If someone can point me in the direction, it would be greatly appreciated.) Thanks to BSBer Kathy, who found the link. You can view the article here.

I, for one, would have liked to see Zherdev with the Rangers for at least one more year. I think Zherdev at one year, $3.25 million was a much safer bet than Ales Kotalik at three years, $9 million (a deal which I hated from the start). It is very tough to give up on someone so talented and so young after just one season. Zherdev’s presence would have given the Rangers two legitimate scoring lines, something that Kotalik’s presence does not give.

For whatever reason it was, the Nikolai Zherdev stay in New York was unsuccessful. That does not take away from the fact that the trade for Zherdev was a solid trade that needed to get made. Strong teams are made by dealing from a strength to address a weakness. That’s exactly what this trade was, and that’s why it will be a solid trade when analyzed from an at-the-time perspective.