Nikolay Zherdev one of the best among under-30 free-agent crop

It’s the time of year where the free-agent options are slim. There are available veterans who could help — guys like Chris Drury, Bryan McCabe and Alex Kovalev. But the ultimate goal in free agency during the salary-cap age is to find someone who can outperform their contract. The ideal situation is to find a player with upside.

Even in July and August, it’s possible to find players under 30 years old who might come with a bigger payoff than their contract might indicate. Here are some options for teams willing to take on a little risk for a possible reward:

Nikolay Zherdev, forward

Age: 26

2010-11 salary: $2 million (via

You won’t find a player with more skill on the market, but skill has never been the question with Zherdev. His icetime with the Flyers last season was a career-low 12:51 per game, but he was offensively productive when he played. According to the advanced statistics website Behind the Net, Zherdev’s 1.29 goals scored per 60 minutes of play trailed only Daniel Briere and Jeff Carter in Philadelphia. It’s a number that puts him at No. 13 in the NHL among players who appeared in at least 50 games.

“He’s been an intriguing player for quite a few teams,” his agent Jay Grossman told Sporting News. “It’s a question of when are we going to be satisfied and when are they going to pull the trigger?”

Zherdev earned $2 million last season with the Flyers and probably doesn’t want to take a dramatic pay cut, but even at that number, he’d be an interesting option for teams in search of scoring help. The Russian forward has 39 goals in the last two seasons.

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