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Can the Thrashers Afford Nik Zherdev?

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Nikolai Zherdev mentioned that he has been talking with the Thrashers about coming to play in Atlanta. But how much could the Thrashers afford to pay him? The answer is "not much."  Zherdev won an arbitration case this summer to the tune of a $4 million salary and the Rangers exercised their right to walk away from the contract, which made Zherdev an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA).

How much could the Thrashers offer Zherdev?

The Thrashers receive substantial revenue sharing money from the NHL ONLY if they stay under the Salary Mid-Point ($48.8 million). As of this moment a 22 man roster with Crabb and Anthony Stewart (both cheap) getting the last 2 forward spots comes a total of $48.423 million in cap hit (adding Evander Kane or Spencer Machcek would cost more).That leaves the Thrashers with just under $1 million under the mid-point if you add Stewart's salary plus the cap space.

The crucial thing is whether you think Zach Bogosian will earn all of his $2.5 million bonus incentive clauses or not. The $48.4 million cap number cited above does include all the bonus money. However, some of those bonus clauses are very tough to earn, so it is unlikely that they will all kick in.

Let's sayBogosian will only earn $1 million of his potential bonuses. That leaves the Thrashers with $1.5 million plus the salary of whomever gets bumped off the roster (~$0.5 million). It is possible that the Thrashers could offer Zherdev as much as $2.0 million but doing so will leave them with their nose up against the mid-point and probably give Assistant GM Larry Simmons heartburn since he will need to scrimp and save cap dollar whenever transactions are made.

There are some serious risks for the Thrashers if they sign Zherdev at $2 million. What if Bogosian goes All-Star on the team and earns more bonus money than they project? What if the teams ends up with a rash of injuries which force them to call up more bodies and spend more money than budgeted? If either of those scenarios were to happen, the true cost of adding Zherdev to the roster would be $2 million plus the hit from going over the mid-point and losing revenue sharing. Let's say hypothetically that going over the mid-point were to result in a $4 decrease in revenue sharing--that makes Nik Zherdev's true cost to the franchise $6 million in a worst case scenario.

It think adding Zherdev would increase the talent base among the forwards (plus I have my doubts Peverley can sustain his scoring rate from last season). But the financial risks are substantial and if you are the GM you can't ignore those risks. The Thrashers have a very tough call on their hands. The potential benefits are substantial and the potential costs are also substantial.