Elliotte Friedman is, for my money, the best hockey writer out there. On a national stage he has his finger on the pulse and is level-headed enough to evolve and interact with the growing hockey community both on his website and through social media. To this point, every week when he releases his 30-Thoughts column people hover around it like it's the only fire in an ice storm. Everyone wants to be first and see if their favorite team is mentioned.
Well, Rangers fans got their wish Wednesday, although they might not have liked what they saw when Friedman peeled back the curtain for a precious paragraph. It involved fan favorite Mats Zuccarello and the current uncomfortable contract negotiations going on between the two sides.
5. I'm a Mats Zuccarello guy. Big fan of his game, and that did not change watching him lead everyone with five shots in Tuesday's win.
He and the Rangers are not close on a new deal and he can walk this summer. The simple move for New York is to keep him, make a playoff run and take their chances later. But, there are rumours they will consider trading him, see what they can get and, if necessary, flip that for something else.
I can't prove or disprove those rumblings, but they're out there.
This little blurb had the ripple effects you probably expect at this point. Panic, anger, fist pounding and despair. And, on some level, I get it. There are genuine reasons to be nervous about Zuccarello right now, and that's not just because every leaked tidbit of information has been getting worse and worse but because he's one of the vital arteries to this team. Especially if you think Rick Nash is the one pumping the blood.
As it stands right now, the Rangers and Zuccarello are far apart on negotiations. That's not exactly unexpected, since negotiating 101 is ask for more (or in the Rangers case less) than what you're willing to accept and then work towards the common ground together. That neither side seems to be getting much closer is concerning, but again, it's not unusual for both sides to stare at each other until someone blinks.
Here's the issue, though. The Rangers (and more importantly the brass) don't want to let Zuccarello walk for nothing. We saw that happen last year when the Rangers committed to Dan Girardi long term before moving Ryan Callahan because they couldn't find the middle ground with the former captain.
You also need to add in the Rangers being contenders this year. So much like last year's deal for Martin St. Louis was a blockbuster trade, the Rangers still received an asset who could help them for their playoff run. Any movement of any player this year (Zuccarello or otherwise) would have to fit the same mold.
Which is exactly why I think a trade isn't coming. Sellers probably wouldn't want to take the risk of also losing Zuccarello to free agency this summer, and buyers aren't going to shed a piece of their puzzle for him, either. So it really wouldn't make sense to move him -- especially pre-deadline -- because the value simply wouldn't be anywhere near what he's worth while also helping the team win now. Meaning Zuccarello is much more valuable to the Rangers through the playoffs (even if he's offloaded at the draft) than to move him elsewhere at the deadline.
But again, I really don't think that's going to happen. I do think eventually the two sides will figure it out and Zuccarello will remain on Broadway. I don't care how much Zuccarello wants to stay, though. It takes two sides to tango and the Rangers didn't seem too worried about Anton Stralman leaving despite the defenseman doing everything short of begging to stay.
Here's the other thing, though. I do believe these rumors are somewhat true. Or, maybe there's a little fire to the smoke. Fact of the matter is, the Rangers would be out of their minds not to at least talk internally about exit strategies if the Zuccarello negotiations turn sour. It wouldn't make any sense to go into the deadline blind and just wing it after the fact. That's horrific asset management and it can't happen at any level, but especially for a contender.
So don't be alarmed the Rangers are looking at the situation from all angles. That's exactly what Glen Sather and his group are supposed to be doing. Risk management followed by a cohesive set of strategies with a Plan B and a Plan C just in case.
That's the smart side of this. The other smart side is actually locking Zuccarello down. And if the Rangers are pinching pennies with Zuccarello they only have themselves to blame since Tanner Glass' three-year, $1.45-million would probably be better served anywhere but on the ice -- especially since those dollars could go to Zuccarello's pocket.
This is also the place you can yell about the Girardi contract and the Marc Staal extension -- although I think the Staal deal was fine in a vacuum while Girardi's was inexcusable since the moment he signed the dotted line.
So yeah, there are a lot of moving parts to this situation. And yeah, it's scary to think the Rangers could let Zuccarello go for nothing (or move him for a marginal return) but you can't be mad at the Rangers for looking at all sides (if the rumors are true).
And if you asked me, Zuccarello isn't be traded anyway ... probably.