The New York Rangers locked up Mats Zuccarello for at least one more season as the team announced it has agreed to terms with its restricted free agent forward. The Blueshirts settled on a one-year deal that will pay their leading scorer from last season $3.5 million according to multiple reports. The two parties were due for a salary arbitration hearing on Friday.
The Rangers probably would have preferred to get Zuccarello under a multi-year deal, but this at least allows them to stay away from the arbitration process, while continuing to pin down something longer term. Now that the new deal has been agreed to, the Rangers can sign him to an extension after January 1, 2015.
A recent report from the New York Post pegged Zuccarello's demands at around $4.5 million per season on a multi-year deal, so the Rangers apparently got him to budge a bit from that reported ask.
The Norwegian dynamo led the Rangers with 59 points last season including 40 assists. He also posted 13 points in the playoffs in helping New York to the Stanley Cup Final.
Zuccarello has played parts of four seasons with the Rangers and took time away from the club in 2012-13 to play in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk after not getting an extension from New York. He ended up re-joining the Rangers for the last 12 games of the regular season and playoffs later that year.
The 5-foot-7, 179-pound winger averaged more than 17 minutes a game in 2013-14, poured 170 shots on net and was the most threatening offensively he's been in his career.
The one problem for the Rangers with this one-year pact is that Zuccarello will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent upon the conclusion of the deal. If an extension can't be reached before he hits free agency and he has another season like last year, the Rangers may risk losing him for nothing. On the other hand, Zuccarello still has to prove that last year wasn't an aberration. Playing under the motivation of hitting free agency or at least playing with the leverage of unrestricted free agency could be a good thing.
At 26 years old, Zuccarello could just be coming into his own and with the $3.5 million done, the Rangers still have more than enough room to fit restricted free agents Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard under the salary cap on new deals.
The club also has to re-sign restricted free agent defenseman John Moore, but with no arbitration hearing coming, the two forwards remaining are the top priority.
Kreider is due for an arbitration hearing Wednesday morning, while Brassard's hearing is set for July 28.
The Rangers are simply restarting the clock with Zuccarello, but getting him back at a reasonable rate for next season gets the ball rolling on what is going to be a crucial few weeks of this offseason.