mats zuccarello
Mats Zuccarello

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.

The biggest difference between Zucc’s production last season to this season is that his powerplay production is way down. This is a factor of two things: The top powerplay unit producing (finally), and reduced powerplay time. Those two are obviously connected, but reduced powerplay production is the main reason his overall numbers are down. In fact, his ES P/60 this season (2.1 P/60) is right in line with last year’s (2.2 P/60).

But perhaps the biggest reason to keep Zucc is because he is one of the best bargains in the NHL. Travis Yost wrote an article for TSN yesterday explaining why Sean Bergenheim and Erik Condra are bargains for the Winnipeg Jets. While the premise of the article does not address the Rangers or Zucc directly, he appears on Yost’s charts used for comparisons.

The first chart he uses shows players that can drive the play in both quantity (CF%) and quality (SCF%), and both in raw numbers (above 50% for both) and relative to his teammates (+1.0% in both). Here are the exact parameters:

Let’s work through some quick criteria to isolate for players with excellent underlying numbers. We will pull out forwards who have logged at least 2000-minutes since 2010. The forwards must have been on the ice for 53% of shot-attempts (we’ll use Corsi%) and 53% of scoring chances. The forward must also have been a quality relative player. That is, his team must have measurably benefited from a possession and scoring chance standpoint with the player on the ice. We’ll set +1.0% Relative Corsi% and 1.0 Relative ScoringChance% as additional parameters.

Zucc is on this chart, with some absurd company (only 43 players make the cut here):


Yes, that’s Zuccarello in the same chart as guys like Seguin, Thornton, Toews, Crosby, Datsyuk, Parise, Couture, Kopitar, etc. Hagelin –who is a quality NHL player, and none of these posts are meant to slight him in any way. It’s just a matter of pointing out the business of the game. I try not to get emotionally attached to players.– is on this chart as well.

This chart is meant to find relative bargains that don’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet. Most of the guys on this list are making well above Zucc’s $3.5 million salary this year, mostly due to the production you see. But if you look at ES rates only, Zucc is in the top-60 in the league in P/60 at even strength. He’s in the top-third of that group. Since most of the game is played at even strength, you need that kind of production in the lineup. Comparatively, Hagelin’s P/60: 1.5, good for top-200.

At this point, we are looking at bang-for-your-buck, since it looks like the Rangers can’t afford to keep both Hagelin and Zuccarello. Zucc is looking at $4.5 million to $5 million, and Hagelin probably in the $3 million to $3.5 million range.

There are a few factors involved here, but I used Michael Grabner’s contract as a comparable for Hagelin, and factored inflation and a higher cap number into the salary. Grabner is in the third year of a five-year, $15 million deal. The offensive production is comparable, but Hagelin is the better player, hence the slight increase in salary.

I’m using Brad Marchand as the comparable for Zucc (remember: douchbaggery isn’t factored into salary negotiations). It’s a fair comparison, production is similar, roles are similar, both are on that chart above. Marchand is in the middle of a four-year deal that averages $4.5 million annually. I’d peg Zucc for that, probably a bit more since he’s making more now than Marchand did before inking his extension.

This is where career numbers and P/60 numbers come back into play. Do you want to pay $4.5 million for Zucc’s numbers, or $3 million for Haglein’s numbers (using low estimates). There’s no right answer here. Personally, I think Zucc’s numbers at that price are an absolute bargain, and at some point the Rangers are going to need RW help if/when Martin St. Louis retires.

In the cap era, a team needs to stick to their budget in the short term while keeping an eye on the future. If Zucc is priority #1 for the Rangers, then they probably have a set budget for him. If he wants more, they will trade him and move on. The same goes for Hagelin. In the end, there are only so many spots on the team.

One bad contract can really mess with a team’s ability to keep more productive players. Two bad contracts is asking for trouble. With the current salary structure, the Rangers need their bottom line guys to produce at cheap contracts, which is why players like J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast are so valuable.

The question then becomes: Who do the Rangers have in the system that can replace Zuccarello and MSL if neither return next year?

If the answer is no one, then keeping one or both is a must. When presenting that same question about Hagelin, the answer can be Miller (at evens) and Fast (on the PK).


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