Much to the disappointment of the Blueshirt faithful, the tenure of Mats Zuccarello with the New York Rangers looks to be in its final hours.
With the NHL trade deadline coming up on Feb. 25, the Rangers will be sellers as they continue a rebuild that stresses youth development. At 31 years old and in the final year of his contract, one of the franchise’s most loyal soldiers in Zuccarello simply does not fit the mold of management’s new direction despite his consistent play.
He’s recorded 50 or more points and led the Rangers in that category in four of the last five seasons and is on pace to hit that number once again with 37 (11 goals, 26 assists) prior to Tuesday night’s tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes
Those numbers, along with 60 games worth of playoff experience (31 points) has ensured that the Rangers are receiving plenty of inquiries about Zuccarello’s availability. TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie reported that the Rangers are “getting good action” on trade talks involving the Norwegian and are expected to get a second-round draft pick and a prospect in return.
Contending teams could see Zuccarello as a second or third-line option to add some scoring depth to their ranks. His extensive participation in the postseason over the years provides an added bonus, especially for more inexperienced sides ready to make the jump to the playoffs.
The Calgary Flames, along with the Dallas Stars, is one of the only known suitors for Zuccarello, per Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet. The top seed in the Western Conference has surprised most of the league behind a potent top two lines that account for most of their offense.
A foursome of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk have accounted for 49.3-percent of Calgary’s goals this season, stressing the need from lower in the depth chart. The Flames’ big signing of the offseason, James Neal, has seen injuries stall a disappointing season in which he’s recorded just five goals and 10 assists in 55 games. It’s hardly the kind of veteran influence that was expected to arrive on a team that sees its top four scorers all 25 years old or younger.
Zuccarello checks off all the boxes the Flames would be looking for, including mentoring the young scorers while providing a level head come postseason time.
Also in the West, the Nashville Predators have seen their offense fall on some tough times. Especially their power play, which ranks dead-last in the NHL. Zuccarello’s 14 power-play points this season would lead the Predators, who are converting at a measly 12.75-percent. He doesn’t provide the same kind of punch as an Artemi Panarin or Matt Duchene, who have also been linked with Nashville, but Zuccarello would be a cheaper rental option and still add a boost.
A third possible trade partner could be the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are fighting for their playoff lives in the Eastern Conference. Granted, it would be an added twist to the knife for Rangers fans seeing Zuccarello go to a divisional rival.
But Zuccarello has helped bring out the best in Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad this season on the top line and that playmaking ability could be seen by the Penguins as a prime option to slot next to Sidney Crosby. His introduction would allow the Penguins to slot Jake Guentzel down to the third line rather than the first while keeping Phil Kessel locked into the second line.