An arbitrator on Sundayawarded right wing Nik Zherdev a $3.9-million contract for next season, and now the Rangers have until Tuesdayto make the next move.
The team, which had no comment, has 48 hours to respond to the decision by arbitrator Elliot Shiftman, who heard arguments from each side at a hearing in Toronto on Friday.
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The award is $650,000 more than the $3.25-million qualifying offer tendered to and rejected by the 24-year-old Kiev native, a restricted free agent. He reportedly sought about $4.5 million in arbitration. So it appears that Shiftman played it down the middle.
The Rangers can walk away from the award. If they do, Zherdev can declare himself an unrestricted free agent. But with his market value set, the Rangers are likely to try to trade him.
It is unlikely the Rangers would trade him to another Eastern Conference team, however. Among the possible destinations, sources believe, are Dallas, Los Angeles and Edmonton, where former Rangers coach Tom Renney is associate coach.
The major question is whether Zherdev would thrive in New York under coach John Tortorella, who is installing an attacking style that relies on conditioning. Zherdev's production and intensity waned in the last 21 games of the season - essentially an audition - and he was pointless in seven playoff games against the Capitals.
According to translations of Russian interviews, Zherdev, who listened in on the hearing via phone from Moscow, said he believed he deserved more money and suggested he wouldn't mind playing a year for a divisional rival and then perhaps leaving for the Russian Kontinental Hockey League.
Zherdev, acquired 13 months ago from the Columbus Blue Jackets, produced 23 goals and 58 points last season, tied with Scott Gomez for the team lead, and has scored at least 23 goals in three of the last four years.
The Rangers, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday, have more than $5 million in salary-cap space but lack a true No. 1 center. They currently have wingers under contract to fill more than four lines: Marian Gaborik, Sean Avery, Ryan Callahan, Chris Higgins, Ales Kotalik, Enver Lisin, Aaron Voros, Brian Boyle and Donald Brashear. More moves will be made before, during and after training camp.
Their other remaining restricted free agent is center Brandon Dubinsky, 23, the Anchorage native who turned down a one-year, $698,000 qualifying offer but wasn't eligible for arbitration. Negotiations are continuing and should conclude with a multiyear deal once an official determination is made on Zherdev's future.