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Thursday, July 9, 2009
Has Zherdev played his last game as a Ranger? Is Hudler heading to Russia? Answers here ...

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Has Nikolai Zherdev played his last game as a New York Ranger?

Given the Blueshirts' signing of winger Ales Kotalik to a $9 million, three-year contract Thursday, you certainly have to wonder.

Zherdev, who scored 23 goals this past season, is a restricted free agent headed for salary arbitration, but his camp says it hasn't heard a peep lately from the Rangers.

"We were hoping that New York wanted to negotiate with us," Zherdev's agent, Rolland Hedges, told on Wednesday night. "All we've had is a qualifying offer. It left us no alternative than to file for arbitration."

Rangers GM Glen Sather, through senior team spokesman John Rosasco, responded Thursday by saying that in fact both sides have had "several discussions" with the Zherdev camp, but "we're now going through the arbitration process after he elected to file last week."

An hour later, Sather signed Kotalik.

The qualifying offer to Zherdev was for $3.25 million (which happens to be $250,000 more than what Kotalik will earn), which his camp believes is less than what it can get in arbitration. The question is, would the Rangers honor the arbitration award, or walk away and cut their ties with the player? And if they do cut him loose, would the 24-year-old Ukraine native Zherdev land in the KHL, as many around hockey assume?

"To be fair, we haven't played the Russian card," Hedges said. "We can play in Russia tomorrow if we want to. We can make more money in Russia, no question; it's nontaxable. But Nikolai Zherdev wants to play in the NHL. The only way he'll go to Russia is if he's not wanted in the NHL at fair market value. We just want to see what New York is prepared to pay on a fair-market-value basis.

"If we're successful in arbitration and they want to walk away, then we'll see what the fair market value will bring on the open market [in the NHL]. And if it doesn't bring it, he can play in Russia. But it's not his first option."

Hmm. Keep an eye on this contract battle, folks. Especially with Kotalik now in the fold.

Hudler update

Speaking of the KHL, Czech forward Jiri Hudler is expected to play there this season.

That's a loss the Red Wings were not expecting this offseason. The restricted free agent, who had filed for NHL salary arbitration, agreed to a two-year deal with Moscow Dynamo. Reports indicate the contract is worth anywhere from $3 million to $5 million a year, tax-free, although you never really know for sure. A KHL spokesman confirmed to this afternoon that the contract was filed and registered with the Russian league.

"I was told by Petr Svoboda [Hudler's agent, who hasn't returned our calls] that it's for significant dollars," Wings GM Ken Holland told on Thursday. "The last time I spoke to Petr was on Monday. I gave him a number, and I said, 'You can choose a three-year term, a four-year term or a five-year term.' I think Petr thought the offer was fair."

But obviously not as much money as what the Dynamo offered. To say the Wings were totally surprised is inaccurate. Holland said he had heard in talks with Svoboda that Russia was a possibility.

"My experience is that the Swedes and the Finns aren't nearly as interested or pursued to go play in the Russian league as the Russians and the Czechs are," Holland said. "We've had Czech and Russian players, and the agent will often tell me there are opportunities in the Russian league. Every time Petr Svoboda and I talked about a contract for Jiri, I also heard that.

"So am I surprised? I mean, I hear it in every negotiation. Alexander Radulov [Nashville] went over to play in Russia. We had Danny Markov we tried to sign, and he went to play in the Russian league. So it's not like this is the first time it's happened. Nothing surprises me."

Holland said the Wings will proceed with the arbitration hearing anyway.

"And he's going to have a contract that he's going to have to honor when he comes back," Holland said. "If he ever does come back."

Losing Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky was not unforeseen, even though the Wings did their best to keep them. But Hudler was looked at as a guy who could step up and fill the void of those departures with youngsters such as Darren Helm, Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader. But Hudler's offensive talent is way better than the talent of those guys. The Wings will scour what's left in free agency.

"Well, I'm going to work the phones," Holland said. "I've talked to a few agents. There's some players that we do have some interest in."

But don't expect a high-end, big-money splash. The Wings don't have much cap space left. They were willing to trade a player to accommodate a new $3 million-a-year contract for Hudler, but now they'd rather sign a forward on the cheap.

"In both Hudler and Hossa's cases, given their age and their stature, we were prepared to sign them and then move players," Holland said. "I don't know that I'm prepared to sign someone on the open market to a one-year deal and then have to move some players. I don't know if we'd be any further ahead in the game. ... So we'll look at the open market, it's been picked over pretty good right now."

My take is that a player such as Alex Tanguay, still on the market, would appear out of Detroit's reach. But what about former Wings forward Robert Lang? He might be had for cheap, given that he's recovering from a serious Achilles' heel injury.

Ducks strike again
Bob Murray's excellent offseason roll continued Thursday when the Anaheim Ducks GM plugged a hole on defense with the signing of Nick Boynton to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million.

Hey, I know, he's no Chris Pronger or Francois Beauchemin, but he's a capable No. 4 guy and that's exactly what Anaheim needed behind Scott Niedermayer, Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski. And at $1.5 million, he came at the right price.

The NHL is hoping to introduce a GM of the year award next season. Right now, I'd say Murray is the leading candidate. He's added a pair of top-six forwards in Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul, acquired a gigantic package of futures in a Pronger trade he was forced to make for financial reasons, and added Wisniewski, Whitney and prospects at the trade deadline.

I like this Ducks team a lot going forward. Still too much tied up in goal with Jean-Sebastien Giguere entering next season behind Jonas Hiller, but that matter remains to be resolved.

And finally ...
I see President Barack Obama gave Alex Ovechkin a shout-out this week. Perfect. Now we just need him to finally show up at a hockey game. I mean, the guy hasn't dropped a puck for either a Caps game or a Blackhawks game (his hometown), two of hockey's hottest markets? C'mon, man -- you're better than that!

I'm told Obama has a standing invite from Caps owner Ted Leonsis to show up at any of his team's games, and Blackhawks president John McDonough also has extended an open invitation to the prez.

OK, so let's look at Obama's 2009-10 priorities:

1. Fix the economy
2. Help end conflicts in the Middle East
3. Go to an NHL game