COMMENTARY| On March 26 the New York Rangers re-signed restricted free agent Mats Zuccarello to a one-year deal worth $700,000. The deal came just a few weeks after Zuccarello's former team, Meallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
It wasn't long after the Rangers were bounced from their own playoff campaign last year that Zuccarello signed with Magnitogorsk, citing that he wasn't getting enough playing time with John Tortorella's Rangers.
Although he fled overseas, the Rangers qualified Zuccarello, and therefore retained negotiating rights, giving them the option to revisit contract talks after his season ended.
Considering the Rangers' struggles to score goals in 2013, and the fact that there aren't many trade options out there as the deadline draws near, re-signing Zuccarello seems like a no-brainer for a number of reasons.
First off, he was signed, not acquired, which means the team was able to add a piece without giving up any assets. This is a plus because the Rangers don't have many trade pieces at the moment. Their first round pick in the upcoming draft now belongs to the Columbus Blue Jackets via the Rick Nash trade, while their prospect pool has become depleted because of the team's ability to graduate so many youngsters over the past five years. Furthermore, there aren't many, if any, pieces on the pro roster that are both attractive to other clubs and players the Rangers can afford to move.
This signing also carries no risk whatsoever for the team. If Zuccarello is a total bust and the Rangers decide to not use him regularly, he's only eating up $700,000 of their nearly $69,000,000 payroll. With the current salary cap being $70,200,000, the Rangers would still have wiggle room.
And if the Rangers are so disappointed in Zuccarello's performance the rest of the season that they cannot bear to have him in the organization any longer, they don't have to retain his services; his deal is only for the remainder of the current season.
With only a month to go, why not give the 25-year-old another shot? He's a talented young hockey player.
Yet some question why the Rangers would bring a player back who has had a limited amount of success with the club in the past, but the truth is is that if Zuccarello is given a fair shot, he's going to be an effective player in this league. Whether or not he becomes one in a Rangers uniform or another team's is up to Tortorella.
This is a player who was named MVP of the Swedish Elitserien while playing for Modo Hockey in 2009-10. The following summer he was the target of many top NHL clubs, but the Rangers were lucky enough to snag him.
Although he began the 2010-11 seasons with the Rangers' AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, he soon made a strong impression after being called up in December of 2010. In 42 games he registered 23 points, 9 of which came on the power play; impressive for a guy who played on an international size rink his entire life.
Although he also had a considerable amount of success in the shootout, Zuccarello was returned back to the AHL on April 1, 2011. One way or another he found himself in coach Tortorella's ever growing dog house.
He only played 10 games for the Rangers in 2011-12, recording only 3 points, though it must be noted that he was injured just as he was finding his game.
For Magnitogorsk this year, he had 28 points in 44 games, which is somewhat disappointing, but I still think he can be a good player for this team.
He possesses raw offensive skill, something the Rangers could really use right now. He's an exceptional passer of the puck, while his vision and positioning along the boards allows him to set up plays in the offensive zone. With him in the line-up, the Rangers give themselves a better opportunity to create more offense.
Now, whether or not Tortorella allows Zuccarello and the Rangers to play a style that suits a skilled hockey club is a completely different story. A team with players as talented as guys like Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Zuccarello should not be forced to grind it out every night.
There may be several reasons the Rangers have the lowest scoring offense in the Eastern Conference, but the most glaring one is Tortorella's insistence on eliminating all of his top players' creativity.
Nothing else seems to be working, so let the boys play. Zuccarello and the rest of the talented forwards have the skill to play puck possession hockey. If Tortorella can find it in him to open things up, the Rangers will get much more than their money's worth out of Zuccarello.
But what are the chances of that happening? Slim at best. Nevertheless, Zuccarello's skillset will help produce much needed offense for cheap no matter what system he's in. Tortorella just needs to be patient.
Andrew Capitelli has been featured on Bleacher Report and Farmingdale Patch and has covered both NHL and college hockey, as well as the New York Rangers. Follow him on Twitter at @acapitelli.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- New York Rangers
- John Tortorella