Archive for Mats Zuccarello
Henrik Lundqvist’s injury may have you feeling otherwise, but the Rangers remain in excellent shape to make the postseason. With an eight-point cushion over ninth-place Florida, securing a wild card berth shouldn’t be difficult even if overtaking the Penguins and Islanders for the Metro Division title may now be unrealistic.
Of course the team’s playoff hopes are pinned to Lundqvist, but there’s reason to believe the best is still ahead for the 2014-2015 Blueshirts – and it’s not because they’re sure to add an impact player by the trade deadline.
When you stop to think about it, how many players are really having standout seasons? Rick Nash, obviously. Kevin Klein has certainly exceeded expectations. Derek Stepan has been a point-per-game player when healthy. And Kevin Hayes has been a pleasant surprise as a rookie. Read More→
Much of the early trade deadline fervor both around the league and in New York has been about what the Arizona Coyotes might do. GM Don Maloney has been screaming “WE ARE SELLERS” at the top of his lungs and Arizona has several attractive pieces, including pending free agent Antoine Vermette. Suit also suggested looking into Yotes defensemen Michael Stone. The Rangers are surely checking on Vermette, but Newsday’s Steve Zipay suggested that another member of the Coyotes, Martin Hanzal, might be a better fit for New York.
On the ice, he might be right. But as always, the financials come into play.
Vermette and Hanzal are very different players. Vermette brings scoring punch, having scored over 20 goals in four seasons. He’s that extra offensive weapon that many past versions of the Rangers would covet.
Mats Zuccarello is not producing the goods. To some that’s a pretty inflammatory comment, but think about it for a moment. Zuccarello’s production is well down compared to last season’s impressive totals, and it’s not just because his powerplay numbers are down (an issue in its own right, covered today at noon). He’s simply not impacting games right now, and hasn’t for most of the season.
I saw a blog comment recently and the writer made a very valid point; given his linemates Zuccarello’s numbers should be much better. For the majority of the season he’s shared a line with Rick Nash, who had been on an All Star level tear, and has predominantly had Derek Stepan (close to a point per game himself) as his center, yet Zuccarello’s production is modest.
Thanks to several large, long term contracts, the Rangers face a struggle to retain Zuccarello at the end of this season. Regardless how you judge Zuccarello’s season so far, he’s surely going to expect a raise on his $3.5 million salary. He’ll also know that if he hits free agency he’ll get that raise he’s looking for because, to put it mildly, the upcoming free agent class is underwhelming at best. Remember what Benoit Pouliot got from the Oilers on the back of a solid but hardly All Star season?
Yesterday I wrote how Marc Staal’s contract extension, combined with all other contracts on the books for next season, may mean that Carl Hagelin is the odd-man out for next year’s plans. Saying that people were divided on the issue would be an understatement. The loudest folks against dealing Hagelin were wondering why the Rangers would keep Mats Zuccarello.
But to be honest, this isn’t a choice of Zucc or Hagelin. They have different roles on this –emphasis on this– team. Zucc is a top-six forward, a guy that will produce and make his teammates better. Hagelin is a bottom-six guy who is counted upon to be a three-zone player and kill penalties.
Zucc is a proven quantity that can produce at even strength and on the powerplay in a top-six role. A common argument is that he is streaky, but even elite players are streaky. It’s hockey, streaks happen.
After a tremendous stretch of hockey going all the way back to December 8 and winning 16 out of 19 games, the Rangers get a much deserved break for All-Star weekend. Once they get through the festivities, they face a tough trip to Long Island to get a second crack to show the upstart Islanders who New York’s real team is. Since there isn’t much specific analysis that the crew hasn’t covered since the OT win again Ottawa, I have some thoughts…
- While I agree that the All-Star Game is kind of silly and since the implementation of the shootout, the Skills Competition has lost much of its luster, the All-Star Weekend is still a great concept for the host city. I was in Ottawa a couple years back when the All-Star Game was held there, and the whole city really came together in a celebration of hockey. We fans might not care at this point, but I’m sure the city of Columbus cares a great deal.
- That said…those jerseys. Yikes. Remember the days when the All-Star jerseys were modeled after old school sweaters? Those were sharp. I’m sure even The Suit approved. These looks like the hockey equivalent of a site worker’s safety vest.
- I’m glad Henrik Lundqvist decided to skip the weekend once Jimmy Howard went down. Over the past few seasons, he hasn’t gotten much in the way of rest this time of year. Between the Olympics and other All-Star festivities, he has been a busy guy in February. It’s only a couple days, but it could go a long way in recharging him for the stretch run.
- You have to be impressed with Matt Hunwick’s play of late, no?
It’s the half way point in the season and our collective egos are such that we like to hand out some mid-season grades to your New York Rangers. Dave got the ball rolling with the goaltending and coaching grades and I have been tasked with the top six forwards so let’s jump on in.
Rick Nash: 40GP 26G 15A 41Pts +17 4 GWG 4 PPG 3SHG
There really is only one player to start with and that’s the NHL’s leading goal scorer. Nash has had a first half to dream of. He’s been healthy, he’s been dominant at both ends of the ice, he’s been consistent (including a point streak of 11 games), he’s been clutch and he’s been everything you could ask for in a potential Hart Trophy candidate. That’s the level Nash has been at – Hart Trophy level.
Club bias aside I – and many others – think Nash could reasonably be in the mix for four major pieces of hardware at the end of the season: Hart (MVP), Selke (defensive forward), Ted Lindsay award (players MVP) and the Richard trophy (top goal scorer). Having a breath taking year.
Derek Stepan: 28GP 6G 21A 27pts +9 8 PPP 4 SHP
Stepan is a difficult one to grade. He still hasn’t developed in the faceoff circle (something that is holding him back from being a legitimate top line center), and he needs to use his shot more; he passes up on far too many quality shooting opportunities, but as a playmaker Stepan has elevated his game to another level this year.
Stepan’s passing and vision are routinely excellent and he didn’t show much rust coming back from his injury. Averaging almost a point per game, Stepan has shown real consistency in his play as a pass first center while he has made a real difference on both special teams units. Wherever Stepan is, he usually has made a positive difference. If he would shoot a little more he would be even more dangerous.
Marty St Louis: 40GP 14G 18A 32pts 12PPP
St Louis is no longer the top line, 100 point winger he once was however he’s still proving he can be a force on the ice and has shown that he’s a leader on this relatively young Rangers team. St Louis has been streaky this year and has had games where he has been completely invisible, something that the Rangers have been able to tolerate because they’ve received fairly balanced scoring this year. However, despite the occasional goal scoring drought and playing in Nash’s shadow, St Louis is still closing in on another 60+ point season which for a player approaching his 40th birthday is hugely impressive.
St Louis is still lethal on the powerplay, he still commands the attention of the opposition and he is still capable of scoring in bunches something that only really he and Nash can do on this Ranger team. St Louis has been good. Hopefully his best will come at the end of the year.
Chris Kreider: 38GP 8G 12A 20pts +9 83Hits
If these grades were based on the last week or two, Kreider’s would be more positive but they’re not. Kreider has endured an inconsistent, frustrating and difficult year and yet he still has a chance to set a career high in goals, assists and points with a solid second half. Perhaps the expectations were too high, but Kreider has struggled in his own end, has endured long slumps, has played recklessly and has been somewhat of a turnover machine. With that all said we’ve seen Kreider dominate teams when he’s on his game, he’s physically imposing and offers the Rangers (and the opposition) something only Rick Nash can do on this team. If Kreider has a strong second half – assuming Nash and St Louis are still firing – it would likely mean the Rangers are flying through the schedule.
Derick Brassard: 38GP 11G 22A 33pts 14 PPP
Brassard has finally developed a level of consistency that does his talent justice (although I haven’t yet forgiven him for his horrendous follow up miss against the Isles). While he has undoubtedly been the beneficiary of Rick Nash’s return to prominence he has also helped Nash do what he has done. Brassard has shown an incredible array of passing, creativity perhaps only rivalled by Mats Zuccarello and has been a powerplay monster with 14 points with the extra man – tops on the Rangers.
Brassard has been much like Stepan, the owner of a wicked shot that he should use more. This season we’ve started to see him do just that – shoot – and no shock, he’s begun to rack up the points. Brassard is on course to smash his career highs in all major categories and is proving Glen Sather’s faith in him to be a smart investment. Brassard has been dynamic, a bargain at 5m, and has fully established himself as a top six center, and on a contending team no less.
Mats Zuccarello: 38GP 7G 15A 22pts +11
Zuccarello has been inconsistent this year but even during spells where he wasn’t producing he has almost never been found lacking in effort. I still struggle to decide whether Zuccarello is a great third line winger or worthy of a permanent top six spot. At times he has struggled to follow up on his break out year of 2013-14 but still, has been one of the Rangers more dangerous players.
Zuccarello has made minimal impact on special teams but his production at even strength has been relatively consistent; he may be the victim of others succeeding on the PP in his place. Zuccarello is similar in one way to Kreider; if coach Vigneault can generate some consistency from him then the Rangers would be in an envious position.
You see Zuccarello’s talent, his on ice vision and hustle and you can’t help wanting more even expecting more out of him, which perhaps is somewhat unfair. With a strong second half there’s still an outside change Zuccarello can flirt with a second 50 point season. Not bad for an undrafted undersized Norwegian.
The most exciting part of the top six’ performances thus far is that there appears room for improvement. Kreider, Zuccarello and St Louis all have had difficult times this season although every member of the top six have played well at least in spurts. If the Rangers can have their top two lines all firing at the same time, there’s very excit
The Rangers had a very busy 2014. Highlighted by their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in twenty years, the Rangers 2014 featured a lot of players who went through ups and downs. As we enter 2015, let’s take a look at how some of those players fared throughout 2014.
Biggest overachiever – Mats Zuccarello
Zuccarello has always had the talent to succeed at the NHL level but 2014 was Zuccarello’s coming out party. As the 2013-14 regular season come to a close, Zuccarello was the Rangers biggest creative force while only Derek Stepan and Martin St Louis scored more in the playoffs as the Rangers fell at the final hurdle.
Zuccarello was a free agent signing with plenty of question marks and as recently as the start of last season no one really knew what the Rangers had with Zuccarello. They know now. Zuccarello is a legitimate top six forward on a contending team full of talent in their top six.
Biggest surprise – Kevin Klein
The Rangers would have won the Klein for Del Zotto trade purely by removing the frustrating Del Zotto from the roster and having a competent body to fill some bottom pair minutes. What they have found is a brilliant shot from the blueline, a guy that is growing by the game, and a guy that is becoming a difference maker from the blueline.
Starting tomorrow, the Rangers will be allowed to sign Mats Zuccarello to a contract extension in accordance with a clause in the CBA that prevents teams from re-signing their players until January 1 after they agreed a one-year pact during the summer.
Zuccarello inked a one-year, $3.5 million deal in July despite interest by both sides in a longer term commitment, but the team had precious little cap space, so there was a general understanding that they would revisit a multi-year deal once the new year hit. The Blueshirts were in a similar situation with Henrik Lundqvist back in 2007-2008, and they worked out a six-year, $41.25 million contract by mid-February.
The decision on Zuccarello’s future is more difficult than it was with The King. The all-time leading scorer amongst Norwegian-born players has admitted that his contract is weighing on his mind, but the Rangers might not be in a hurry to ease those concerns.
Though Zuccarello is a fan favorite and a creative player with outstanding vision, he’s occupying one of the key top-six wing spots that are suddenly very crowded. Rick Nash is a lock for one of those positions going forward, and Chris Kreider will also be given more time to round out his game. Talented youngsters J.T. Miller, Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich all also figure to be in the mix for permanent jobs going forward. The one wild card is Martin St. Louis.
The 39-year-old winger is still very productive and has made it clear he wants to finish his career in New York, but he’s also set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. One would think the Rangers and St. Louis have an understanding that they’ll reach a series of short deals to keep him on Broadway as long as it’s beneficial for both sides, a la Teemu Selanne in Anaheim over the last several seasons. But St. Louis’ status could have a direct impact on Zuccarello.
Obviously it’s easy to see parallels between the two, starting with their size and extending to their similar roles as playmakers and power play specialists. Zuccarello has the huge advantage of being 12 years St. Louis’ junior, but St. Louis comes with a championship pedigree that is invaluable, especially when you consider the relative youth of the aforementioned wingers that figure to be his teammates moving forward.
Sather could deal Zuccarello before the trade deadline, but the return for an expiring contract isn’t going to be great, especially since Zuccarello figures to be interested in seeing what he could command on the open market if he doesn’t remain in New York. Plus, though some of those young wingers figure to make an impact over the next few seasons, none of them are would match Zuccarello’s contributions for this year’s playoff run.
Sather will likely stew on this decision for the next few weeks before deciding whether to dive into negotiations or pursue a Plan B, but eventually, something has to give.
What do you think the Rangers should do with Zuccarello?
Heading into the second half of the season, the Rangers are of course riding the momentum of some impressive recent form but not all Rangers have played up to expectations this season, nor has every player shown the consistency that was expected of them. With that said, here are three key players that have a lot to prove and a lot to play for, as each game becomes increasingly important from here on in.
Right now, things seem rosy for the little Norwegian, and he has indeed been much better of late with eight points in his last seven games but more importantly, he’s been a consistent creative spark – much like last year. However, thanks to last year, more is expected from Zuccarello and looking at his season to date as a whole, he hasn’t delivered enough. Having led the Rangers in scoring last year with 59 points, Zuccarello’s production is well down with just 18 points to date.
With Alain Vigneault sending out more consistent lines thanks to better health up front, Zuccarello should benefit from that stability. Zuccarello has a lot on the line – he’s playing to justify his hefty one year raise but more importantly he’s playing for his long term future. If Zuccarello can show the type of consistency from last year was no one year fluke, the Rangers will be much more dangerous (and successful) for it.
Kreider has been consistent; consistently underwhelming. The talented American winger has a lot of upside and is trying to live up to pretty significant expectations. His development (or lack of it) will significantly influence the direction of the organisation given the lack of high end draft picks and skilled forward talent in the organisation following several asset stripping trades. That said, Kreider’s importance and future in the organisation is also influenced by a handful of other prospects. Although very different players, if Anthony Duclair, Pavel Buchnevich and (of most relevance) Kevin Hayes develop into productive NHL players Kreider’s long term future may be elsewhere if he cannot develop into the player he’s expected to become.
Last year, his first full year in New York, Kreider scored 17 goals, 37 points and as the year grew on, displayed consistency and a physical presence that suggested he would be a star and an important Ranger for a long time. So far, it hasn’t happened. With 5 goals and 15 points (and zero production on the powerplay) Kreider is an afterthought on a club that’s looking for their young players to step up. Kreider needs to cut down on the careless penalties, finish his chances and develop some consistency. He’s proven he can take over games when he’s at his best and the Rangers would love nothing more than to spread the wealth up front and have to rely less on Rick Nash.
Dave has discussed the Rangers choosing Boyle over retaining Anton Stralman a lot. It’s something that certainly creates debate. Long term, you would imagine Stralman would have been the wiser choice but the Rangers were looking for Boyle to address a glaring need when they chose the veteran puck mover over the younger (and popular) Swede. So far, Boyle hasn’t helped the powerplay as hoped. He has hardly been a feature player given all the time he has missed but against the Capitals just before the Christmas break we saw a small glimpse of what Boyle can do on the powerplay.
A confident puck mover and a veteran with strong hockey smarts, Boyle’s presence and production are more important as the year goes on. He has the opportunity to make his indifferent start forgotten. A player such as Boyle could be a difference maker in the playoffs where goals become scarcer and when powerplay production can be the difference between going deep in the playoffs or booking tee times on the golf course. If Boyle stays healthy and makes an impact in the second half of the year – but especially in the playoffs – all will be forgiven and the clamour for Stralman will lessen. If he continues to struggle then fans will accuse Glen Sather of another failed foray into free agency. Boyle will be closely watched as the Rangers playoff push gathers pace.
While the Rangers keep looking for some consistency and Rick Nash keeps the team in playoff contention almost single handidly, one of the most underwhelming players this season – so far – has been Mats Zuccarello. The little Norwegian winger has failed to live up to his new one year contract (and hefty pay rise) and certainly hasn’t played to a level where he can expect to a get rich, long term deal this coming summer.
With all that said, the Rangers really need Zuccarello to get going. Zuccarello is one of the Rangers more creative players and, Marty St Louis and Derek Stepan aside, arguably boasts the best on ice vision of any Ranger. An in form Zuccarello would surely make the Rangers powerplay much more efficient which would go a long way in helping the team string more wins together. Last season Zuccarello had 17 points with the extra man. This year, somehow, he has yet to record his first point on the powerplay. A huge fall from grace for the popular and hard working winger.