It was not even an entire day after the New York Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs before the rumor mill to begin churning for the offseason. The name that popped up and popped up often was that of 24-year-old forward Mats Zuccarello.
Zuccarello, who becomes a restricted free agent this summer, only played in ten games with the Blueshirts over the course of the 2011-12 season, spending most of his time with the Connecticut Whale in the American Hockey League. It was somewhat evident that the two sides were going to split before the offseason even hit, but the development over the past few days has pretty much confirmed that to be the case.
On Saturday morning it was reported that Zuccarello had agreed to terms on a deal that would send him overseas to play in the KHL. Without having to do very much digging, you could easily have disregarded that false rumor since a restricted free agent cannot sign elsewhere until he at least receives a qualifying offer from his current club.
Zuccarello confirmed this via his twitter account:
Its alot of romurs right now. I dont know yet were im going to play next year.
— Mats Zuccarello (@zuccarello36) May 26, 2012
Grammar aside, Zuke made it very clear with that statement that he had not illegally signed a deal with another club in another League.
However, what he did not note was the follow-up report stating that he has a prearranged set-up in the KHL if the Rangers' qualifying offer is not in his preferred range and/or if the team cannot promise him more playing time at the NHL level. Whether or not that is 100-percent accurate is unknown, but it was reported by multiple sources.
Meanwhile, during Monday's break-up day at the training center in New York, Zuccarello was quick to voice his displeasure with how few NHL games he skated in during the regular season...
"Even the injury or not, I only played 10 games this season. That's not enough for me," Zuccarello told ESPN. "I want to play more and if that's not going to happen, I've got to figure something else out."
His point cannot be debated.
But does that mean the Rangers should give in to the 5-foot-7 winger's demands? Absolutely not, especially with the growing core of young prospects developing and nearing their NHL debuts. Zuccarello has his advantages with his quick feet and hands, but that can and will be easily replaced in the future without having to even reach outside of the organization. Plus, despite the speed, it became more and more evident that Zuccarello's small stature was not exactly perfectly suited for the NHL, which seems to be getting tighter and tighter each year.
Obviously it wouldn't be a bad thing if the Rangers could meet at a middle ground with Zuccarello and get him signed for the following season, but they wouldn't be missing out on a whole lot if that wasn't the case. Nor can they guarantee him any specific amount of games because, as we know darn well, the coach's lineup is never predictable from one game to the next.
Personally, I think the Mats Zuccarello - New York Ranger relationship has come to an end, but that's just me.
"I want to be a New York Ranger. I love the players, all the guys here," Zuccarello said. "The fans are unbelievable and I just love playing in New York with the team. This is where I want to be, don't get me wrong, but I have to think about what's best for me."