There’s a strong chance that after such an impressive performance against the Flyers (no matter how unimpressive the Flyers have been this year) that John Tortorella will stick with the line-up that pulled out the victory, and certainly the 5-2 win perhaps affords the coaching staff time with re-acquainting themselves with Mats Zuccarello. That said, when Zuccarello does eventually re-enter the line-up – and he will, why else bring him back? – his play will have a significant impact on the future of Marian Gaborik.
The Rangers have a young roster and enough moving parts that cap space isn’t a huge concern at the moment, even if it does need monitoring for next year. However, moving Gaborik or buying out Richards gives the Rangers much more maneuverability going forward. Therefore, a successful return by Zuccarello and/or an immediate impact by the also incoming Jesper Fast make Gaborik a luxury.
Amid all the positive performances against the Flyers, Gaborik wasn’t bad. That however doesn’t cut it, especially as young players such as Chris Kreider, JT Miller, Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto and Carl Hagelin all stepped up to play strong games in a hostile building. Throw another two potential top six wingers into the mix and Gaborik’s cap hit may become unnecessary. With Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan entrenched in the top six wing positions. the mix of Hagelin, Kreider, Miller, Zuccarello and Fast is exciting, young and cheap.
What bodes well for Zuccarello’s immediate inclusion Thursday is the quickly approaching trade deadline and the still inconsistent Rangers powerplay. While ‘Zuke’ could help spark the latter, moving Gaborik could too (think Boyle, Dan). Essentially, the upcoming games against the Senators, the always tough Canadiens, and the Jets next Monday could be an audition to see whether this team can move forward this season without Gaborik.
Gaborik has simply been frustrating this season. He’s flashed his obvious brilliance, but not enough to without-doubt-justify keeping him beyond this year at the expense of depth. One just needs to look at how the Chicago Blackhawks struggled initially (after winning the Cup) with the depth that they lost – and their subsequent over reliance on their top players – to see how Gaborik’s cap hit could be the crucial difference to the Rangers building a long term, deep contender.
While small in stature, and still relatively unproven, Zuccarello’s impact in the coming days could be huge. His play could help shape the Rangers roster for the coming seasons whether he himself is in the long term plans of Coach Tortorella or not. The next few days could act as a play in. Can Gaborik re-emphasise his importance or could a potential saviour from the nether regions of the KHL emerge. Not just for playoff points, but the next three Rangers games could tell us so much more about the future.