Yesterday afternoon the New York Rangers and Mats Zuccarello agreed to a one-year, $1.15-million contract. The last-minute deal allowed both sides to avoid arbitration, with the hearing scheduled for today (July 31st).
From a team perspective, I've never liked arbitration. You have to go into a hearing, intentionally lowballing your RFA and going over all the poor qualities that player has. Sometimes those hearing leave scars that don't heal. But the Rangers avoided that, and now they have all but one of their free agents signed.
The Zuccarello contract, however, was yet another victory for Glen Sather, who has done masterful work this offseason. Yet the deal was met with a massive amount of anger. There seems to be three sides when it comes to how fans perceive Zuccarello and his new contract:
1) Zuccarello is a quality player who has yet to prove himself over an 82 game season, but has the tools and skills to be productive in this league. While he'll never score 40 goals or be a point-per-game player, he brings offensive creativity and can easily give the Rangers 40 or more points a year if given the proper minutes. Still, he's only played in the NHL in small sample sizes (through no fault of his own) so a one-year deal helps protect the Rangers if he falls off.
2) Zuccarello sucks, he's too small to be in the NHL, he doesn't bring grit or physicality and the only work he's done with the team has been in small sample sizes. This deal makes no sense, it's about $500K too high.
3) Zuccarello is the greatest player alive. He can be penciled in for 30 goals and 40 assists easily this year. The only issues with this deal is it wasn't for six years.
The truth of the matter is, of course, the first one. Zuccarello is a quality player, who can slot up to the first two lines if needed while Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are injured and he can contribute on the man advantage. We've talked about Zuccarello's impact on the bottom six at length this summer, we don't need to go into it again.
The bottom line? The Rangers got a good player at a great contract. Zuccarello needs to prove himself over the course of an 82-game season, but he's shown enough reasons for the Rangers to bank on him for one year. There is virtually no risk. There is a ton of reward.
And yes, the Rangers do need to sign Derek Stepan. If you think the Rangers can't sign Stepan because of this contract, well, I don't know what to tell you. It's simply not true.