There are two disclaimers I want to get out of the way before I go any further.
Disclaimer 1: Mats Zuccarello requested a one-year deal himself, knowing that there will be a bigger payday down the line with a higher cap and UFA status as leverage.
Disclaimer 2: The New York Rangers signed him to a one-year deal with the intent of keeping hit cap hit low to make a move for this year to help make the team better right now. This disclaimer only works if Glen Sather actually pulls off the move. If he tries and fails, the Rangers have added an unnecessary risk with a one-year deal.
If either of the above are true, then the below is essentially just rabble. None of us are in the negotiating room, however, so we're going to move forward as though neither of the above are true.
Here's why you love this deal: $3.5-million for Zuccarello is a steal. Zuccarello led the Rangers in scoring last year (Martin St. Louis not included) with 59 points and his 40 assists were tied with Derek Stepan for highest on the team. He was first on the team with 570 SPs (SP is a "setup pass" stat, that estimates how many passes a player makes that leads directly to a teammate's shot). Brad Richards was the next highest with 498. Stepan was third with 474. No other player even reached 350.
There's a lot to love about Zuccarello. He's a feisty player who brings a lot of snarl in his little frame. His visions and passing ability is at the Stepan level, and he has an amazingly quick and accurate shot he doesn't utilize enough. He's a guy who can thrive on both the power play and 5v5, and he's a player who absolutely bought into Alain Vigneault's system this year. Blessed with a high hockey IQ, more often than not Zuccarello is able to get himself into the right place at the right time.
He was the motor of the team's most consistent line, and he was easily the team's most consistent forward all year. There is nothing to dislike about the Rangers bringing him back and intending to keep him long term down the line.
Here's why this deal makes you uncomfortable: It's one year. Next year Zuccarello is an UFA, and the Rangers do lose some of their leverage because of this. I've seen a lot of people talk about this deal protecting the Rangers from last year being a fluke. I disagree. I think Zuccarello has gone above and beyond in proving that he's the player we saw last year, especially when you look at the underground fancy stat numbers.
If Zuccarello kicks off the year on a tear (say 30 points in 40 games), his camp can push their salary demands higher and point towards what would become a massive payday for the 27-year-old free agent next year on the open market. Teams would be drooling over him if they're not already.
Now, many have pointed out that Zuccarello has always said he wants to stay in New York long term, and he wouldn't have signed this one year deal if he intended to bolt. While I agree he's said all the right things in terms of staying in New York, if he and the team hit a snag with negotiations he can always hold off talks until the summer when the pressure is really on Glen Sather and company.
Remember, the Rangers have played hardball with Zuccarello his entire career, pointed towards him needing to prove he can play like this consistently in order to earn a bigger payday. This year Zuccarello has a chance to do just that and put all those fears to rest.
Actually, there's a third disclaimer as well.
Disclaimer 3: The Rangers realized they weren't going to get a long term contract figured out with Zuccarello before arbitration, so to avoid going through that process (a smart move) the team signed him to a one-year deal now, with a promise of a bigger payday next year with a rising cap. The team can ink him to an extension after 1/1 and everyone is happy.
When the deal was originally announced I was against it. The one year aspect of the contract concerns me in terms of Zuccarello being a Ranger for the long haul. To be clear, I do expect him to sign a long term extension next year, but the situation still makes me a little uncomfortable.
What I realized was one of the three disclaimers above are probably true. Or maybe, there's a little bit of truth in all of them. Zuccarello certainly doesn't mind a one-year deal, the Rangers might be able to use the cap space they saved to bring in someone else, and the two sides can work on an extension on 1/1 now that they've avoided arbitration. The cap is rising, and the two sides might be able to come to an agreement around the $4-million a year range (what I thought the Rangers were going to snare him at for a longer contract this time around). That didn't happen, but it doesn't mean it won't down the line.
The deal itself isn't a bad one, it's actually a fantastic one, it's just a little risky.