Arbitration begins in a week in Toronto, with the Rangers visiting our neighbors up North for three key forwards. So how important will it be to sign each of Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, and Chris Kreider? To put it mildly, the 2014-15 season depends on it.
The importance of the third line last year has been talked about ad nauseum, but for good reason. The most productive line last year is in jeopardy of becoming complete history, with Benoit Pouliot signing an enormous deal in Edmonton two weeks ago. Both Zuccarello and Brassard are restricted free agents, going unrestricted next year, so the likelihood of arbitration going well is high; however, what happens if they follow in Derek Stepan’s footsteps from last year? How important is it that these players don’t miss camp?
It’s been well documented that Zuccarello is looking for a serious pay raise. The Norwegian winger played impressively last year, but it’s important to note Glen Sather’s comments regarding Zucc and Kreider. Zuccarello was arguably the best player on the team last year, but it was his only really impressive year. Zucc isn’t a baby; at 26, his breakout year is promising, but not indicative that he will be this good for a consistent time period. Furthermore, the team should not be leaning on a third line winger for the majority of their points. Maybe it was a Cinderella year for Zuccarello, but it certainly should not become the norm.
Zucc is looking for a pay raise to the $4M range, which, if he gets I’m pretty sure we’ll all be ice skating home since hell will have frozen over. Sather doesn’t have that kind of leeway, nor will he have the patience or desire. The recent extension signed by Brandon Dubinsky in Columbus, however, won’t help managements case. Dubi signed an extension for 6 years/$35.1M, a $5.85M AAV. He is their de facto leader, but as a Ranger never amounted to a whole lot; this is scary since it could act as a backup plan for players who are looking for a larger role on a team.
With such a short free agent class this offseason, it’s obvious that the Rangers will have to lock up their restricted free agents, and hopefully for more than a year. Signing these three will put a reality check on many of the fans who are currently losing their heads over the not-so-dramatic losses that were incurred on July 1."Arbitration Musts",