Signing Zherdev now could cost the Flyers a superior player later

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Thumbnail image for zherdev.jpgThe Philadelphia Daily News backs up suspicions that a deal between flighty Russian winger Nikolai Zherdev and the Philadelphia Flyers seems highly likely (and also that such a contract would probably push out Simon Gagne).

The signing of Zherdev would officially mark the end of the Simon Gagne era in Philadelphia after 10 seasons. Last week, Gagne agreed to waive his no-trade clause. Gagne is due $5.25 million next season, his last year under contract with the Flyers.

Zherdev’s signing would put the Flyers over the salary cap. They currently have $578,000 in space with Darroll Powe and Dan Carcillo remaining as restricted free agents. Teams are allowed to be a maximum of 10 percent over the $59.4 million hard cap until the first day of the regular season on Oct. 7.

It appears that Zherdev would like a multi-year contract worth what he would have received last summer had the New York Rangers accepted the terms of his salary arbitration ($4 million).

This is not an uncommon reaction to the Flyers’ off-season moves but … what? Really? Why are the Flyers doing this? It boggles my mind that the team would put their already shaky salary cap situation in peril for a player widely known as a locker room headache whose career high is only 61 points (and who has a -46 career plus/minus).

Yes, it’s true that NHL teams can go about $5.9 million over the cap for portions of the off-season, but let’s not forget that the Flyers will have to face some tough questions next summer. Three forwards who could very well be “core” players will see their contracts expire in July ’11 (Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and Ville Leino) while potential goner Gagne could be an unrestricted free agent.

Handing the feast-or-famine Zherdev a $4 million per year deal would likely inhibit the Flyers from retaining one of Carter, Giroux and Leino. Would you honestly choose a player who generates adjectives such as “enigmatic” and “inconsistent” instead of more reliable scorers? Sure, that isn’t the direct decision because Philadelphia won’t be confronted with those choices until next year, but have NHL teams learned nothing from the barbaric gutting of the Chicago Blackhawks roster this summer?

Now, Zherdev and the Flyers haven’t officially reached a deal yet, so this could all be a matter of wrinkling some brows for nothing. That being said, if it goes through, an already tight salary cap situation could become a real problem. All that for a player who is only consistent when it comes to being frustrating? That’s pretty baffling, even for a team far off the beaten path like the Flyers.