It goes without saying that the Rangers – barring unforeseen circumstances – will be offering leading scorer Mats Zuccarello a new deal in the summer. Zuccarello was a creative spark when he returned from the KHL last year and has been a stunning surprise this year – no one foresaw Zuccarello leading the Rangers offensively. With all that said, has Zuccarello done enough to warrant a long term commitment from the Rangers?
As a restricted free agent, Zuccarello doesn’t have a significant amount of leverage but sometimes numbers do speak for themselves. Zuccarello established career highs in every meaningful offensive statistic while his line with Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot was the Rangers most consistent all season long. On an inconsistent powerplay Zuccarello was one of the few constants.
Zuccarello has also turned up in the playoffs. While a small sample size, Zuccarello was one of the more creative forwards last season and has started this postseason well with 2 points in 3 games against the Flyers. The little Norwegian winger has dispelled any theories of his size being an issue and has always been one of the Rangers’ more physically engaged forwards, even if he’s not intimidating. He has not backed down from anything the Flyers have thrown at him.
With an increasing cap and a lot of potential turnover, not to mention his line’s impressive consistency (and …the subsequent roster depth it has provided) there are numerous reasons why the Rangers should commit long term to Zuccarello. The only real question is whether his production this year can be repeated? Can Zuccarello get close to 60 points again?
The Rangers areas of concern beyond this year do not rest with their group of wingers which is in part thanks to Zuccarello’s development. With Zuccarello, Nash, St Louis, Kreider and Hagelin the Rangers have a fine core to build on and retaining of all these players allows the Rangers to focus on the eventual Brad Richards’ replacement and dealing with Derick Brassard’s future.
How long should the Rangers commit to Zuccarello? With no sure-thing on the way from the AHL or the prospect pool (Kristo and Miller headline a talented but unproven bunch) and with a proven, popular commodity already in place, the risk associated with retaining Zuccarello isn’t as significant as dipping into an underwhelming free agency this summer for forward help.
If the Rangers were to reward Zuccarello with a three year $7.5m package it would represent a huge raise but a deserved one and would still be under value for a borderline 60 point player. Zuccarello will be deservedly cashing in this summer; all that remains to see is by how much."How long should the Rangers commit to Mats Zuccarello?",