1. Zherdev hits the open market
Potential can be both a blessing and a curse. Young athletes who are said to have “potential” are often blessed with multi-million dollar contracts, instant celebrity status and more playing time than you can shake a stick at. They are also cursed with the burden of expectation, a burden that is often too much for a young man’s psyche to handle.
Nikolai Zherdev was tagged with the “p” word at a young age, and big things were expected of the Ukrainian sniper in Columbus after he was selected with the 4th overall pick in the 2003 entry draft. Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean went so far as to say that Zherdev was the highest rated player on their board that year, ahead of future stars Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Dion Phaneuf and Jeff Carter. After failing to live up to the hype in Ohio’s capital, Zherdev was shipped off to the Rangers last July with Dan Fritsche for Fedor Tyutin and Christain Backman.
Now, after only one season in Manhattan, the Rangers have also had enough of the enigmatic winger.
The Rangers decided last Tuesday not to sign Zherdev to the contract he was awarded in a recent salary arbitration hearing, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. Following a season in which Zherdev notched 58 points and an 8.9 Goal Versus Threshold (GVT), a salary arbiter awarded him a one-year contract worth $3.9 million. (For a complete breakdown of GVT, see Tom Awad’s three-part explanation, starting here).
TSN reports that Zherdev had been seeking $4.75 million while the Rangers offered less than $3.2 million. By parting ways with Zherdev, the Rangers say goodbye to their top scorer, second-best forward according to GVT rating and one of the only impact forwards on their roster to post a relative plus/minus rating on the positive side of the ledger. Couple that with the loss of Scott Gomez (who tied Zherdev for the team lead with 58 points and posted a GVT of 8.2) and the Rangers are seemingly a team lacking punch up front. Sure, they added Christopher Higgins (23 points, 2.1 GVT) and Ales Kotalik (32, 2.8), but neither of those players wowed anyone last season and neither seems particularly primed for a career year in 2009-2010.
Still, GM Glen Sather seems satisfied that the club’s offseason additions more than outweigh their losses.
“With the additions we've been able to make this summer, we feel we've been able to add scoring and offense from the wing position. Following the arbitration process and subsequent award given, we feel it is in our best interest to walk away and continue to explore all available options to improve our roster.''
Slats can profess to be happy with the makeover all he wants, but the fact is he chose not to bring back the two highest scorers on his team and the fourth (Markus Naslund) retired in the offseason. For a team that finished third to last in goals scored, that’s a risky proposition. The fans at Madison Square Garden may be in for a lot of 2-1 games this coming season.
As for Zherdev, his agent made a statement explaining that the winger’s first priority is to remain in the NHL, but reports indicate he is more likely to sign with Yuleav Ufa, a team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
2. Gillis’ meteoric rise continues in Vancouver
What a strange journey through the world of professional hockey it’s been for Vancouver Canucks front office whiz Mike Gillis. Already GM of the Canucks, the native of Sudbury, Ontario was named team president following Chris Zimmerman’s resignation last Tuesday. Gillis’ promotion comes after his first and only season as GM of an NHL club, but that’s not to say Gillis isn’t qualified for the job. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a man who has such a multitude of experience in and around the sport.
Born in the northern Ontario mining town of Sudbury, Gillis was a rather distinguished junior player in his youth, scoring 132 points in 111 games over parts of three seasons with the Kingston Canadians. The Colorado Rockies selected the playmaking left winger with the 5th pick of the 1978 draft, but shipped him off to Boston after Gillis tallied only 35 points in his first 121 NHL games. Plagued by chronic knee trouble, he didn’t fare much better with the Bruins, scoring 41 points in 125 games over four seasons. Gillis retired following a final, career-ending knee injury in the 1983-1984 season with a disappointing career mark of 0.31 points per game.
However, his retirement from playing was only the beginning of Gillis’ career in hockey; he began coaching the varsity mens’ hockey team at Queen’s University in Kingston, and graduated from that same institution with a law degree in 1990. He later taught sports law at Queen’s and served for years as a player agent to such superstars as Mike Richter, Pavel Bure, Bobby Holik and Pavol Demitra.
Before long, the kid from Sudbury was garnering attention from front offices around the league. He was a serious candidate to take over the Canucks’ general manager title in 1998 when Brian Burke was hired, and is rumored to have turned down an offer to serve as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He eventually was hired as GM by the Canucks last April, and under his watch the club made it to the second round of the playoffs before bowing out to the Chicago Blackhawks.
It is still far too early to gauge Gillis’ ability as a general manager, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how he will fare in his new, additional role as president, but it certainly does seem as though it would be foolish to bet against his success. Unless his knees give out.
Gillis’ success may ultimately be determined by whether or not he can sign franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo to a long-term extension. Luongo, who posted a 19.8 GVT last season and was having a Vezina-caliber campaign until the injury bug hit, is entering the last year of a four-year deal. He is seeking an extension in the neighborhood of 5 years at $8 million per. Gillis told a local radio station in Vancouver last week that the two sides are “philosophically” close to a deal.
3. JR Superstar skates into sunset
Following the retirement of Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick last week, the NHL will unfortunately be a little less interesting next season. Roenick, a nine-time all-star who scored 1,216 points in his 20-year career, was as known for his colorful antics and offbeat interviews as he was for his consistently courageous on-ice contributions.
From throwing a water bottle at a referee’s feet from across the ice in Buffalo to singing along with the P.A. system on the bench in Philly, Roenick was the rare hockey player who was comfortable bearing his personality to the public.
Last year was certainly a disappointment for Roenick, who tallied a mere 13 points in 42 games and a GVT of –0.1. Clearly, it is time for him to step away. Don’t be surprised to see Roenick in a broadcast booth or on an analysts’ panel sometime in the near future.
4. News and Notes
The Toronto Star reports that there is a grassroots movement afoot to convince the Maple Leafs to ditch their current, 11-pointed leaf logo for a return to their old school, 35-pointed leaf. The old logo was replaced following the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup victory in 1967 and the franchise hasn’t won a single Stanley Cup since. A few concerned Maple Leaf fans have created a website, www.leafslogo.com, which includes a petition with some 1,000 names on it. The 35-pointed logo currently appears on the team’s third jerseys…
Arizona bankruptcy court judge Redfield T. Baum delayed a contempt hearing involving Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes. Moyes and his lawyers allegedly publicly filed documents that were supposed to be kept confidential. No new date for the contempt hearing was set…
Speaking of Baum and the Coyotes, September 10th has been set as the date for the auction that will determine the team’s new owners…
The NHL may be taking an extended break while their best and brightest battle for gold at the Olympics in Vancouver, but the two-week hiatus will be anything but a holiday for the league’s general managers. The league announced this week that the trade deadline for the 2009-2010 season has been scheduled for March 3, a mere three days after the games wrap up on the west coast…
The league is apparently investigating the massive, 12-year contract Marian Hossa signed with the Chicago Blackhawks this summer. The Ottawa Sun reported last week that NHL honchos are looking into whether the deal circumvents the salary cap and collective bargaining agreement.
Bill Duke is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Bill by clicking here or click here to see Bill's other articles.