It’s widely known that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been in hot pursuit of Minnesota’s Jason Zucker for some time now. Zucker would have been the main return in the Pens’ attempt to trade Phil Kessel to Minnesota last summer, had Kessel not elected to reject a trade to Minnesota. More recently, national whispers of the Pens doing things like “checking in” on the status of Zucker has floated around the rumor mill from credible sources.
But as we’ve pointed out, Wild general manager Bill Guerin still has made zero trades in his still fresh stint in his job. That’s in part because he was hired abnormally late in the off-season after all the important dates of the NHL’s summer had concluded.
One player Guerin was saddled with was Mats Zuccarello, whom Guerin’s predecessor Paul Fenton signed last summer to a five year, $30 million contract ($6.0m annual cap hit). It was a weird fit, Minnesota was already a bit old and saddled with long contracts and deciding to commit the age 32-36 years for a supporting player in Zuccarello probably wasn’t wise. The Wild needed to get leaner and younger. Decisions like that were what got Fenton fired.
But, on the surface, Zuccarello has had a very comparable season to Zucker via the SKATR chart to track a lot of metrics:
The advantage for Pittsburgh would be that Zuccarello should cost a fraction in a trade of what Zucker would command, if available. And there’s no guarantee that Guerin would have interest in moving Zucker. But what of a 32-year old winger dumped on Guerin’s lap who has an expensive deal? Is that on Guerin would like to make go away to open up more flexibility? Makes a bit of sense.
The biggest hurdle could be Zuccarello himself. One year after one winger used a no trade clause last year to block a trade from Pittsburgh to Minnesota (Kessel), ironically the shoe could be on the other foot. Zuccarello could conceivably do the same to block a deal from Minnesota to Pittsburgh, because he has a full no movement clause in his contract, one more parting gift from Fenton.
There is also the matter of the Pens wanting to add this season and four more years of a $6 million cap hit, which possibly could be done but might take a bit of financial finagling in the summer. Guerin could help his cause to get this done by retaining a bit of the salary too. Given that Pittsburgh has been open about winning now and willing to give salary and term to lower line players, it philosophically would be consistent to bring in a player like Zuccarello if they believed he could help them win now and worry about making the money work in the future.
And he probably could help now, which is the biggest factor. Zuccarello has a strong history of regular season point production, and he pretty seamlessly made the move from New York to Dallas last season and helped the Stars by scoring 11 points in 13 playoff games.
If Guerin’s motivation is to clear a veteran and a salary, and if Zuccarello was willing to uproot and change teams again this could be a cost-effective proposition for the Pens to keep all their best young assets and still add a top-six winger that will produce points and give their team an immediate boost. It’s a bit out of the box thinking, but given that few impact players are likely to be available to be traded in the next two+ weeks, it’s an avenue to at least consider for all sides.