Three players on the New York Rangers filed for salary arbitration hearings this month. In case you haven’t followed the NHL offseason much so far, those three players are Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. A couple of days before his meeting, the Rangers and Zuccarello agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. This is great news for the team and fans, as Zuccs was a focal point to the team’s success this past season.
But while it’s good to see the man who wants to be a “Ranger for life” re-sign with the team, GM Glen Sather messed up a huge opportunity. Zuccarello is only 26 years old and entering the best years of his career, already showing his full potential. By only signing him to a one-year deal, he can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, which means New York can lose him for nothing.
These “bridge” deals are very common for restricted free agents and recently for most of the Rangers’ young core. Derek Stepan, at 24 years old, avoided arbitration last year by signing a two-year deal. Hours before his meeting, Kreider inked a two-year deal for $4.9 million. They’re called “bridge” deals because restricted free agents use these near-arbitration deals as a way to “bridge” their way to bigger contracts as unrestricted free agents. I’m sure Stepan will see a long-term deal worth a lot of money, as will Kreider in two years.
Something that needs to be noted about the Rangers is the lack of cap space currently. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to sign Zuccarello to a two-year deal so you can wait for a bigger cap to sign him long-term. Now the pressure for Sather to keep Zuccarello has increased to not botch his negotiations with Zuccarello’s agent during the next season. Without the winger on that third line — or better yet team — the Rangers won’t have a chance to win the Eastern Conference a second straight year.
Regardless, Rangers fans should rejoice, as one of their best players is back in Ranger blue for another season. While you’ll hear a lot of contract talk over the next year, it shouldn’t phase Zuccarello as a distraction. But this is something the Rangers will either be happy with or regret.