New York Rangers veteran forward Mats Zuccarello realizes his time at Madison Square Garden is drawing to a close.
The 31-year-old left winger spoke with Norwegian journalist Roy Kvatningen and discussed his future with the Blueshirts.
“A trade appears to be most likely,” Zuccarello said (h/t New York Post). “I guess I’m prepared for it. Basically, I’m just waiting for it to happen. It’s a tough spot to be in if I’m being honest.”
Zuccarello since attempted to clarify, saying that he wasn’t waiting to be dealt.
This is his ninth season with the Rangers where he’s developed into a fan favorite, embodying a blue-collar, gritty fan base with a hard-nosed, skilled brand of play despite being just 5-foot-8.
He hasn’t let his size slow him down as he’s led the Rangers in points in each of the past three seasons. In 17 games this year, he has three goals and 10 assists with a minus-9 rating.
But the Rangers are moving in a new direction after failing to miss the playoffs last season for just the second time since 2005. Management has cautioned fans of a rebuild that will stress youth, which led many to believe that the Rangers would be one of the worst teams in the East this season.
So far, it’s not the case as they are still in contention for the final Eastern Conference postseason spot, but New York has lost five of its last six games during a time of year where pretenders are normally expected to nosedive.
Falling out of contention makes a player like Zuccarello expendable, though his name has popped up in trade rumors multiple times over the past few months.
Given the Rangers’ direction, it’s useless to have a 31-year-old taking up a top-six-forward spot when it could go to one of the organization’s younger, more promising talents.
When trade talks involving Zuccarello do, in fact, heat up, there should be no shortage of contending teams interested. He has averaged just over 56 points per season in each of the last five seasons and has appeared in 60 postseason games. That kind of experience could be looked upon as a hot commodity around the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25.