When the Rangers made the organizational decision to re-build a flawed roster, there was immediate debate about the future of Mats Zuccarello. At the time, he had 1.5 years left on his (very affordable) contract and had turned 30 in training camp. I don’t think there was anyone out there claiming that Zucc was running out of gas, but it was fair to say there was some uncertainty about where he fit best in the future plans of the organization.
Fast forward to the present; the Rangers had traded almost all their pending UFA’s and pulled the trigger on trading their captain and number one defenseman, Ryan McDonagh to the Lightning in exchange for futures. The Rangers were all in on the re-build. Mats Zuccarello remains on the roster.
It doesn’t take a Hockey Insider to tell you the team has two choices. Trade Zuccarello or extend him. Letting him walk as a UFA after next season is atrocious asset management, so you are down to the two scenarios. Let’s walk through the merits of both.
Let’s start with extending him. Obviously, this is all hypothetical, since we have no idea what type of salary or term demands that Zuccarello might have, but he has a history of taking reasonable contracts to play where he is comfortable. So, I am going to assume this possibility exists (if it doesn’t it makes the whole decision a lot easier).
First things first, Zuccarello has endeared himself to the fanbase with not only his production, but his style of play. New York loves the little guy with the huge heart and the fearless temperament. Aside from Lundqvist, he would be the most recognizable Ranger to come out of the core run of the last decade, and more than a few people have mentioned his name for the next Captain.
I’m not a huge believer in organizational continuity, but I do believe that (contrary to some opinions around here) that you cannot have a team full of 21-year-olds. Being a professional is a difficult acclimation and the kids coming up will need a quality veteran or two to help them understand their responsibilities and the ins and outs of being a pro. Having someone who has been through the wringer before can provide invaluable experience to young guys learning on the job.
What about trading him? Isn’t his value better maximized by trading him for more assets? I guess that depends. Tom Urtz, Jr. over at Blueshirt Banter, wrote an extremelt in-depth article about Zuccarello’s trade value. You should check it out. He argues that his production and trade comparables put his value somewhere around the 13th overall pick. Based on this framework, one could argue that you could dangle something shiny in front of Peter Chiarelli and use Zucc as the foundation for a trade into the Top 10.
Of course, if these were real world offers for Zucc, I don’t think you could realistically turn it down, from an asset management perspective. To take an undrafted free agent signing, who then gave you years of quality production at an affordable cost and flip him in his final contract year for a high first round pick is an asset management home run.
That’s the no brainer scenario, though. I think we would all agree that the Draft or the deadline is the most likely timing for a Zuccarello trade. The deadline is a crap shoot, because depending on the desperation level of another club, his value could tilt in either direction, and it’s a huge risk for the team unless an extension option is in their back pocket. So, let’s focus on the Draft. If Chiarelli wants to Chiarelli all over himself or Jim Nill feels that a winger is his missing piece, you pull the trigger, no questions asked. But what if someone comes offering two seconds? Or a second this year and a first next year?
These situations call for some crowdsourcing. Therefore, I put the discussion to all of you. Should the Rangers trade Zuccarello at the Draft? Make sure to vote in the poll below and have at it in the comments section. Hopefully this will help you get through your Friday with some good old fashioned, hot stove debate. Enjoy the weekend everyone!