Days after reports surfaced that free-agent forward Nikolai Zherdev was inching closer to returning to the NHL, the former fourth overall draft pick signed a one-year deal with the Flyers on Friday.
Zherdev's signing probably means the end of Simon Gagne's 10-year career with the Flyers. Zherdev signed for $2 million, which put the Flyers about $1.4 million over the $59.4 cap.
Gagne, who has a $5.25 million cap hit, told a Quebec TV station earlier this week that he had not waived his no-trade close, but the Flyers disputed that.
By adding Zherdev, the Flyers instantly bolstered their lineup. The 6-foot-2 right winger, who played in Russia last season, proved himself as an able scorer over five NHL seasons. But his unflattering reputation initially made him a long shot to join the Flyers.
Boston and Buffalo reportedly were courting Zherdev as well.
Throughout Zherdev's career, question marks have been raised about his character, work ethic, and consistency. Some observers had even deemed him a liability in the locker room after he clashed with Columbus Blue Jackets team officials about his contract in 2006.
But the Flyers' short-term commitment to Zherdev protects them from much risk, and general manager Paul Holmgren - as evidenced by the signing of goalie Ray Emery - has shown a willingness to take a chance on players with questionable reputations.
"Nik is a highly-skilled player who, at 25 years old, we feel will be a good fit to our core of forwards," Holmgren said in a statement.
Drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2003, Zherdev has 239 career points (99 goals, 140 assists) in 365 NHL games. He spent four seasons in Columbus before playing one season for the New York Rangers in 2008-09.
On July 2, 2008, the Blue Jackets traded Zherdev and center Dan Fritsche to the Rangers for defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Bäckman.
In his last NHL season, Zherdev had 58 points (23 goals, 35 assists) and 39 penalty minutes, appearing in all 82 regular-season games. He led the Rangers in scoring and finished second with 35 assists.
In seven Stanley Cup playoff games, Zherdev was scoreless.
A native of Ukraine, Zherdev played for Atlant Mytishchi of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League last season. The Rangers had allowed him to walk after he won a $4 million salary award in arbitration.
He reportedly had been seeking a multiyear deal for that same amount in his NHL comeback.
Zherdev played in 52 games for Atlant and collected 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) and had a team-leading 79 penalty minutes during the regular season.
Nikolai Zherdev's Career Statistics
Here are Zherdev's numbers in the NHL:
Year Team GP G A PTS +/- PIM
2003-2004 CBJ 57 13 21 34 -11 54
2005-2006 CBJ 73 27 27 54 -13 50
2006-2007 CBJ 71 10 22 32 -19 26
2007-2008 CBJ 82 26 35 61 -9 34
2008-2009 NYR 82 23 35 58 +6 39
TOTAL 365 99 140 239 -46 203