Mats Zuccarello has 15 games to prove he belongs before the trade deadline
The Zuccarello countdown clock has begun. The Rangers have 31 days before the March 2nd trade deadline to decide what they will do with Mats Zuccarello. That translates into 15 games for Zucc to break out of this funk and prove he should be here long term.
Now, Zuccarello is a fan favorite so I expect a guttural reaction from many for even putting these words on the site. Many will even detest me for doing so or claim that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Another fan sticking point will be that he is part of the core on this team and that’s why he won’t be traded.
Well, I have two words for you – Ryan Callahan.
Yes, the captain of the Rangers and super fan favorite, Captain Cally was traded at the deadline last year. The situation here is similar in that Mats Zuccarello, like Callahan is an unrestricted free agent. Callahan was demanding a salary and term that Glen Sather was not comfortable with, including a no trade clause. Zuccarello, last we heard was looking for a deal in the 5 plus million range. Are his 7 goals and 23 points in 44 games worth that right now? The answer is simply, no.
Mats is regressing this season. Last year he led the team with 59 points in 77 games. First off, that really isn’t that incredible of a year. It was more a byproduct of off years by Derek Stepan and Rick Nash that he was the top point getter. With Marty St. Louis on board for a full season and Derek Brassard finding his game, Zuccarello is at best the 5th best forward on the team (he currently sits 6th in points).
This season, Zuccarello is producing at a .52 points per game pace as opposed to last year’s .76. What makes this regression even more alarming is that he is now on the top line with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard, when last year he was producing on the third line.
We know the Rangers needs another legit NHL center. We also know the Rangers are actively trying to acquire one. Antoine Vermette is at the top of the list and Arizona’s asking price is a first round pick and a good prospect or a very good young roster player.
In the era of the salary cap, spending wisely on your players is the key to sustained success. More importantly is keeping your bottom six forwards at a level of cost certainty. That’s why, Carl Hagelin who is inexpensive and a restricted free agent isn’t going anywhere. JT Miller, who is struggling to earn Vigneault’s trust could be in the deal, but I’m not sold on it. I would be hard pressed to give up on a 21 year old blue chipper like Miller.
Mats Zuccarello however, could be the perfect trading chip for a Rangers team that will need to open up spots on the wings for players like Kevin Hayes and next year, Anthony Duclair. Arizona also feels that this team is a lot closer to competing and aren’t interested in a full rebuild.
In other words, this could be the perfect match for both teams near and long term. Even if Vermette is a rental, the Rangers could use him for what could be a magical run in the spring. The only knock on Vermette is he is 32 and is looking for a deal upwards of 5 million.
Vermette has 31 points playing for an offensively challenged Coyotes team. You would have to reasonably assume an uptick in offense being flanked by a player like Carl Hagelin and possibly Kevin Hayes. Another key factor is his ability to win face-offs at a rate of 55%. A deficiency on this team only amplified by Kevin Hayes’ 35%. Either way you slice it, this is a move Glen Sather is undoubtedly considering.
There is a chance that Glen Sather could change his mind come March 2nd. That power lies completely in the hands of Mats Zuccarello. He has 15 games to turn this around. 31 days to change Sather’s mind and continue his run on Broadway.