Anatomy of a Trade: Nikolai Zherdev

By now you probably know about Nikolai Zherdev, the now former New York Rangers forward. Zherdev was seeking a $4.5M per year contract from the Rangers, and after failed negotiations was awarded $3.9M for one year by an arbitrator. Rangers GM Glen Sather chose to not accept the contract and walked away, leaving Zherdev a UFA. Many in the media applauded Sather as Zherdev had been considered lazy, inconsistent, immature, and even a poor teammate.

He also apparently got Doug MacLean fired.

New York acquired Zherdev last summer in a trade with Columbus. The Rangers sent defencemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Zherdev and centre Dan Fritsche. Zherdev and Fritsche were Columbus' first two draft picks in 2003 (4th and 46th, respectively) and were brought in to help New York's anemic offence. Columbus got a solid defenceman in Tyutin and the most consistent player in the NHL in Backman, who had just completed his fourth consecutive 18-point season (and a 19-point campaign with Frolunda during the lockout). It was a good trade for both sides at the time, but a year later Columbus clearly comes out on top. For New York this trade was a failure. Dig into the details, however, and the trade looks far, far worse.

Welcome to Anatomy of a Trade: Nikolai Zherdev. Ranger fans, now is the time to take a deep breath, we're about to enter Glen Sather country.

  • February 26, 2008: Trade deadline day. New York sends their 2008 4th-round pick to St. Louis for Christian Backman. In 18 games Backman puts up 8 points to finish with 18 overall and has a decent post-season.
  • June 20/21, 2008: St. Louis sends New York's pick to Nashville for goaltender Chris Mason. Nashville then flips the pick back to the Rangers for a 2008 7th-round pick and 2009 4th-round pick. In logic that only makes sense in Sather Land, New York has now re-acquired their own draft pick.
  • July 1, 2008: New York signs Wade Redden for six years at $39,000,000.00. Ranger fans weep.
  • July 2, 2008: Columbus trades Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche to New York for Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman.
  • January 29, 2009: The Rangers give up on the underperforming Fritsche and trade him to Minnesota for 26-year old rookie defenceman Erik Reitz. Reitz's salary is only $500,000, making him a spare part.
  • March 4, 2009: Trade deadline. Sather makes a bunch of trades and puts Reitz on waivers. He gets picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • March 7, 2009: Erik Reitz apparently volunteers to take up Carlo Colaiacovo's legacy in Toronto and injures his ankle before even playing a game. He misses the rest of the season.
  • Summer 2009: Zherdev files for arbitration, Rangers walk away. Minnesota decides to not qualify Fritsche, he becomes a UFA. Toronto forgets about Reitz, he becomes a UFA. Backman only had 7 points, so naturally he also becomes a UFA.

Here's a quick roundup: Minnesota and Toronto end up with nothing. St. Louis basically swapped Backman for Mason, which turned out fantastically for the Blues. Nashville drafted players, because that's all they ever do. Columbus makes the playoffs and has Tyutin signed for a few more years but let Backman walk. New York is left with nothing.

In 18 months the Rangers managed to give up Tyutin, Backman, Fristche, Reitz, and Zherdev, while also trading two 4th-round and one 7th-round picks. Besides one year of Zherdev, what do they have to show? Their own 2008 4th-round pick that they had to trade two more picks to get. That's right, the Rangers gave up five players and three picks for a net total of their own draft pick. To make matters worse, Backman and Tyutin were deemed expendable because Sather thought Redden was a great signing, and the Rangers now only have four NHL defencemen under contract, and two are Redden and Michal Roszival.

The winners of this monstrosity are the St. Louis Blues. Chris Mason is a fine goaltender who helped the Blues pull off a minor miracle by making the playoffs last season. The loser is not the New York Rangers, nor Glen Sather. The losers are the Ranger fans who are forced to watch moves like this happen again and again and again. They’re frustrated and bewildered, and it’s easy to understand why. Sather’s gamble on Zherdev has left the organization with gaping holes, and one has to wonder how long it will take before Mark Messier finally puts an end to his reign.

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