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?