I often watch the TV show “Shark Tank.” For those who do not know what it is, it’s a show on ABC in which entrepreneurs pitch businesses and products to five wealthy business moguls, or “Sharks,” in hopes of receiving offers for an investment. It’s a radically capitalistic show, with fierce interrogating and negotiating regarding manufacturing costs, inventory, sales numbers, equity, marketing blueprints, and so on. The potential investors put a lot of thought into analyzing the data, negotiating potential deals, and deciding if an investment is both pragmatically and economically sensible.
Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban is one of the Sharks, and on a few occasions he has rejected pitches with what I feel is an interesting perspective. To paraphrase:
“My most important investment is my time.”
I think it’s a pretty profound point. Cuban set aside economics in favor of a more abstract analysis. Profit is not made in a vacuum. Getting the business going will cost him time and energy that could have instead been spent on another business, or with his family, or at the golf course. On the other hand, maybe the business is one he is passionate about, or maybe he feels the pitched product will make the world a better place. Yes, profit is a big part of the evaluation. But there are no algebraic equations nor business school lessons that can answer ultimate, intangible question of, “would this endeavor make me fulfilled and happy?”
The Rangers seem ready to invest in a long-term vision rather than a win-now attitude, and with that will likely come the selling off of some parts. Management isn’t going to blow up the team, but most of the older players with contract expirations soon approaching seem to be in the discussion. Rick Nash. Michael Grabner. Nick Holden. Ryan McDonagh.
Mats Zuccarello, 30, has also been name-dropped multiple times. Most recently, Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman wrote Tuesday that the Rangers are “willing to listen” on offers for the Norwegian.
If I wanted to, I could probably write a convincing argument based in hockey strategy for keeping Zuccarello. He is still young enough to be part of a competitive team in the future, and small, nimble players without much mileage tend to last longer than the average hockey player. He’s also a good influence in the locker room and a role model for the average young player who might be questioning the limits of his ability and body.
Ultimately, though, that argument would be disingenuous. Of course, the Rangers shouldn’t trade him just for the sake of liquidating, but this is a team that needs to make moves for the future. Zuccarello will be 31 by the start of next season, and his contract expires in 2019. If another team offers proper value in the form of draft picks/and or young players, then it is objectively in the Rangers’ best interest to pull the trigger.
The aforementioned evaluation adds up in terms of the math, but it does not account for my sentimental investment as a hockey fan. I enjoy watching Mats Zuccarello play hockey in a Rangers’ sweater. I enjoy watching him successfully pull off ridiculous passes that most other players would never think to attempt. I enjoy watching him cleverly lifting a stick in the defensive zone to force a turnover and start a transition the other way. I enjoy watching him forecheck and inexplicably come out of a board scrum with the puck on his stick. I enjoy watching him make goofy faces in the locker room, and awkwardly embrace Chris Kreider after a power play goal, and get in the grill of a 6-foot-4 defenseman. I enjoy watching him clown helpless goaltenders in the shootout. Hockey is supposed to be fun, and nobody makes it more fun than Zuccarello.
So I wish for no trade to happen.
This makes me a hypocrite. I have long spoken out against NHL teams whose decisions regarding signings and trades are based in emotion rather than in objective reason. I have used this very platform to lament the amount of analysis centered around Dan Girardi and Tanner Glass which was based in how they made people feel rather than what they produced on the ice. I have openly admired the processes of cutthroat decision makers like Theo Epstein and Bill Belichick, who are obsessed with exploiting every merciless decision they can think of to gain the slightest added win probability.
However, I am also a hockey fan. I very much enjoy the game theory of it, but I also enjoy the artistry as well. The ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup, but there are 31 teams and only one cup to give out every year. As a fan, one has to be able to find fulfillment beyond wins and losses. Gratification hinging solely on successful pursuit of a championship would leave fans of most teams miserable.
Like Mark Cuban, I am left to ponder a potential Mats Zuccarello trade not only as an evaluation of exchanged capital, but also as an investment of my existential being. I don’t think a team would realistically offer up a package that, in tangible value, would outweigh the empirical value that his presence brings to me as an enthusiast of the game.
I would hope that the Rangers’ decision makers have motives which are much more objective and rational than my own.