It pains me to say, but all signs are pointing to Mats Zuccarello being traded at the deadline. Now it is entirely possible that he re-signs in the summer, like what Keith Tkachuk did with St. Louis after being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers. While that can certainly happen, the focus will be on what Zuccarello can fetch in a trade.
The best comparison we have for Zuccarello is something that fans should remember vividly, and that is the Rick Nash trade to Boston. That trade fetched a 1st round pick, a 7th round pick, a solid but not top prospect, and two roster players to offset salary (Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey). The Rangers also retained 50% of Nash’s salary. Ignoring the players to offset salary, the value is set: A first round pick, a late round pick, and a solid but not top prospect.
Given Zuccarello’s salary of just $4.5 million, the need to retain salary likely isn’t there, but it’s something the Rangers could do to sweeten the pot. After all, more salary room ($2.25 million, to be exact) goes a long way for a contending team looking to make another splash.
Teams looking to add Zuccarello are looking for a top-six winger to fill out their roster. These are teams that are a little top-heavy, but have the potential to be true contenders if they make a move or two. Or, in some cases, they have the potential to still be in the running despite being flawed, like the 2016 Ottawa Senators.
The Avs fall into that latter category. Outside of the MacKinnon-Landeskog-Rantanen connection and a great season thus from from Semyon Varlamov, the Avs have no real business being in second place and ahead of the Winnipeg Jets. They are in the position they are in, though, and will likely be looking to shore up their forward depth, or lack thereof, at the deadline.
The Avs are also in a great spot with Ottawa’s first round pick this year, in addition to their own. It may make them a little more loosey-goosey at the deadline, since they have a lottery pick in the wings. And no, the Rangers won’t get that lottery pick for Zuccarello. So don’t bother with the pipe dream.
In terms of prospects, Cale Makar is probably off the table. The next tier has three guys that Corey Pronman lists as legit prospects though, in RW Martin Kaut, C Vlad Kamenev, and D Conor Timmins. Kamenev is currently on the NHL roster, so let’s just scratch him, as teams rarely subtract from their current roster.
The Rangers have a habit of targeting heady players with complete games, and both Timmins and Kaut fit that bill. Neither has elite upside, but both are solid. In this situation, I’d prefer Timmins, but either will suffice.
This is a team that is lacking just one top-six forward. They are a legitimate contender who likely need a 2C more than they need Zuccarello (they’ve been linked to Kevin Hayes), but that doesn’t mean they won’t be looking to add insurance. They have their first round pick and the cap space to make it work, too.
They also have a trio of solid-to-very-good prospects in winger Kristian Vesalainen (1st, 2017), defenseman Dylan Samberg (2nd, 2017), winger Mason Appleton (6th, 2015), and center Michael Spacek (4th 2015). Vesalainen is the best of the bunch, but the other three are solid prospects too.
Given how the Rangers have been targeting defensemen in trades, I can see Samberg as the target here. Appleton is with the club, and Samberg is a little bit better than Spacek.
Their window is closing fast. If the Jets make a move to solidify their forwards, I can see Nashville doing exactly the same thing. Heck, maybe both teams pluck players from the Rangers. Cap space isn’t an issue for Nashville, and they have their first round pick. If the Predators are going to win, they need to do it soon.
Keeping with the defenseman theme, Dante Fabbro is probably the best prospect in Nashville not named Tolvanen. He’s another solid defenseman who isn’t elite level, but overall good. If the Rangers want someone a little more NHL ready, then Frederic Allard, currently in the AHL, could be a target. He’s the opposite of Fabbro, with great offensive ability, but struggles in the defensive zone. Given how the Rangers lack in offensive defensemen outside of Tony DeAngelo and Neal Pionk –neither are guarantees– they could use someone else here.