Philly may not have room for Gagne anymore
The Philadelphia Flyers' recent signing of unrestricted free agent winger Nikolai Zherdev not only raised eyebrows but also cast the future of long-time Flyers winger Simon Gagne into doubt.
Zherdev, 25, last played in the NHL in 2008-09 with the New York Rangers, where he tied for the team lead in points (58) with Scott Gomez. But he was a major disappointment in his first-ever playoff appearance, going scoreless as the Rangers blew a 3-1 opening-round series lead, falling to the Washington Capitals in seven games.
The Rangers decided not to re-sign him and failing to find any takers in last summer’s free-agent market, he played last season in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Leading up to the Zherdev signing, it had been assumed general manager Paul Holmgren was planning to bring in an experienced starting goaltender.
He’d received permission to speak with San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov prior to his eligibility on July 1 for unrestricted free agency and former Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco claimed he’d rejected an offer worth $2 million per season from the Flyers, which the club subsequently denied making to him.
Given how the Flyers play a physical, two-way style under head coach Peter Laviolette, the fact they opted to sign Zherdev, even to an affordable one-year deal worth $2 million, was met with surprise.
While Zherdev is an undeniably skilled offensive player, scoring 20 or more goals three times in his five NHL seasons with the Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets, he’s faced considerable criticism about his seeming indifference toward the defensive aspects of the game.
The reason for this move was to bolster the club’s depth on right wing and if Zherdev is willing to buy into Laviolette’s system, this could be a shrewd move by GM Paul Holmgren. If not, this could become a significant headache.
Regardless, the Zherdev contract pushed the Flyers over the $59.4 million salary cap for next season by over $1.4 million. Holmgren is allowed during the offseason to spend over the cap by up to 10 percent but must be under it prior to the start of the 2010-11 campaign.
Compounding Holmgren’s problem is he must also free up sufficient cap space to re-sign forwards Dan Carcillo (who recently filed for salary arbitration) and Darroll Powe.
Someone’s gotta go, and in all likelihood that someone will be Gagne.
The 30-year-old left winger has been a star with the Flyers since he made his NHL debut in 1999-2000, racking up seven seasons with 20 or more goals, including two 40-plus-goal seasons, becoming a popular player among Flyers fans.
Unfortunately, he’s also got a lengthy injury history, including concussion and groin injuries that sidelined him for considerable periods over two of the last three seasons.
With only one year left on his contract — worth $5.25 million — it appears Holmgren has no intention to re-sign him prior to next July, when he’d become an unrestricted free agent.
Reports out of Philadelphia on July 2 claimed Gagne had waived his no-trade clause, sparking speculation he might be on his way to the Los Angeles Kings.
A week later, no trade materialized and Gagne told the French sports network RDS he had not agreed to waive his clause, though he never ruled out the possibility of doing so.
While there appears to be mixed messages about Gagne’s trade status, the media consensus in Philadelphia is the Zherdev signing makes Gagne a goner.
He likely will be picky over where he gets dealt. Having finally played in the Stanley Cup Final last spring after 10 NHL seasons, Gagne’s preference likely will be for Cup contenders.
It’s also possible, however, that Gagne might refuse to waive his clause or decline to accept possible trade destinations offered up by Holmgren.
That’s led to suggestions the winger could end up placed on waivers where, given his reputation and experience, he’d likely be picked up by a team either seeking more scoring depth or perhaps one, like the N.Y. Islanders, in need of getting payroll above the league’s mandated cap floor of $43.4 million.
While it remains to be seen how this situation pans out it’s apparent the Flyers aren’t done making moves this summer.