Chrisitan Backman

Sather Turns Defense Into Offense

After day one of the 2008 Free Agent period, the Rangers were set on defense, but had significant holes on their top two lines. On day two GM Glen Sather made an attempt to rectify that, dealing defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche.

Zherdev, a 24 year old right wing who is playing on the last year of a three year contract that has a cap hit of $2.5M, instantly provides the Rangers with a credible scoring threat on the top line. In 82 games with the Blue Jackets last year, the Ukrainian born winger picked up 26 goals and 61 points, the second time in his four seasons in the NHL that he’s scored 25+ goals.

A recognized offensive talent, he has struggled at times with consistency, and was the topic of several trade rumors over the last two seasons, particularly in 2006-07 when he managed just 10 goals. Like Jaromir Jagr, Zherdev is not known for his defense and has a career -52 plus/minus rating, playing for one of the worst teams in the NHL over that period.

In Dan Fritsche they have a young winger who has not lived up to his early promise. Fritsche was one of the stars of the USA World U-20 team that won gold back in 2004. Since then, the 22 (23 on July 13th) year old winger has totaled 206 NHL appearances, with 29 goals and 34 assists.

In return the Rangers have given up 24 year old Fedor Tyutin and 28 year old Christian Backman. In Tyutin, the Rangers give up a legitimate blueliner, but one who had been pushed down the depth chart by the addition of Wade Redden and the progression of Marc Staal. By contrast Christian Backman struggled as a Ranger, and was ultimately scratched in the playoffs after being able to prove that he could be reliable in his own zone.

In Cap terms, the Rangers exchanged the salaries of Tyutin ($2.8M) and Backman ($2.3) in exchange for Zherdev ($2.5) and Fritsche (RFA – made $750k last season). The net result projects to be around a $1.5-2M in additional cap room.

Perhaps the biggest concern in the deal will be the Rangers’ ability to resign Zherdev next season. With five Rangers already accounting for over $32M, the Rangers will be looking at substantial increases for both Zherdev and Dubinsky.

One option might be to trade Michal Rozsival‘s contract next Summer to free up space, especially when you consider Ilya Kovalchuk might become available.

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