When the Rangers made the decision to call up Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell last week, they were doing so for two reasons: they needed to address a need in the lineup (speed) and to try and shake things up a bit after a stale two games. Out of the lineup was Erik Christensen, and into the lineup were Hagelin and Mitchell, and both have held their own thus far.
What the Rangers also did was bypass Mats Zuccarello for a potential call up. Many will point to the salary cap as a reason why he was not called up, and yes that was a concern. However that is not as big of a concern as many are making it out to be. With Marc Staal, Wojtek Wolski, and Mike Rupp all on LTIR, the Rangers actually have $3 million in LTIR space available to them. This means that Zuccarello could have been a call up.
It looks like the Rangers have reached the proverbial “breaking point” with Zuccarello. That’s not to say that he is angering the organization, because it doesn’t appear that he is. It is just a point reached with players that the organization has realized he may not have a future with the club. It happened with Dane Byers. It happened with Dale Weise, it happened with Brodie Dupont. It looks like it has happened with Mats Zuccarello as well.
Zuccarello is not a bottom line player. In today’s NHL, he needs to be on the top nine forwards, preferably top six, to be an effective NHL player. Currently those spots are all occupied, both short term and long term (think: Hagelin, Kreider). There is not a single player in the lineup on the top six forwards that will be moved to make room for Zuccarello. On the third line, you can make a case for Ruslan Fedotenko or Sean Avery being switched out, and with good reason.
Thing is, both guys are done at the end of the year, and likely will not return. So, the Rangers are in the process of planning for the long term, and seeing what other players they have in the organization. They’ve seen Zuccarello. They saw him last year at both levels. Now it’s Carl Hagelin’s turn. Hagelin was tearing up the AHL, he earned his call up. Does Zuccarello’s AHL play make him a potential call up? Of course, but he’s a known entity within the organization. Hagelin is not.
What matters is that by no fault of his own –or of that of the coaching staff– Zuccarello may have simply been passed by players both on the roster and on the depth chart. The spot on the third line was his. He was given it, and he lost it. He looked lost, plain and simple. Now he has to get it back, or look for a fresh start. The kid has tremendous skill, but it doesn’t look like he has a future with this team.