Mats Zuccarello has been the New York Rangers' biggest surprise this season, and it goes without saying that he is going to get a significant raise from his current rate of pay.
The tenacious winger has been a consistent forward through 50-plus games this season, and it is fair to say that he is a player worth keeping for the future.
The Blueshirts will have a ton of cap space this summer so they will have no excuse to be cheap. How much should the Rangers pay to retain their creative playmaker?
According to Cap Geek, the Rangers will have $42,062,500 in cap space this summer, and they will have to sign 11 other players in addition to Zuccarello. With that in mind, the Rangers will likely pay Zuccarello a minimum of $3.5 million, but don't be surprised if he makes between $4 and $5 million.
He will turn 27 in September, and for that reason it would make sense to sign him to a three or four-year deal that takes him to age 30 or 31.
It seems like a significant amount, but Zuccarello has become a significant part of the Rangers' roster. He was one of the leaders in scoring, he is a key cog on one of the league's most successful power-play units and he has added an edge to his game that makes him a well-rounded player.
It has been a pleasant surprise for the Rangers, and they should have no problem paying Zuccarello because he has finally established himself.
Prior to this season, Zuccarello was an enigma. He was a gifted offensive player, but the extent of his value was limited to his shootout prowess. Zuccarello was given a few opportunities, but he ended up in the AHL no matter how well he played.
While there, Zuccarello produced in spades, but ultimately he wanted to play professional hockey. That was a major reason for his defection to the KHL—Zuccarello didn't leave the SEL to play in Hartford.
After a short stint overseas, "Zuke" returned to New York, and he picked up where he left off. It was evident that he was a changed player, and he got even more of an opportunity due to the firing of John Tortorella and hiring of Alain Vigneault.
This season every player was given a clean slate, and more importantly it was Zuccarello's chance to earn a real contract. This season Zuccarello earned $1,150,000 after coming to terms on a deal with the Blueshirts before his elected arbitration hearing.
So far Zuccarello has 35 points in 51 games, and that equates to a 0.69 points per game average. It is already the best season of his career to date, and he is on pace to finish with just under 60 points.
The Rangers can't afford to play hardball with Zuccarello because he is an offer sheet risk. Glen Sather will have a ton of cap space, but he can't risk having a team make an absurd offer that in good conscience he can't match.
For a player of Zuccarello's caliber, it wouldn't be crazy to see a team desperate for scoring try and pluck him up with an offer sheet worth upwards of $5 million. He creates most of his offense with his playmaking abilities, so it really wouldn't matter who he played with.
Fortunately, Zuccarello wants to remain a Ranger, and that was the reason he elected for binding arbitration last summer. He knew there was no way he was getting over $3 million, so that automatically required the Rangers to sign him.
It will be interesting to see how the Zuccarello situation is handled, but it goes without saying that he should be a Ranger next season. This year he has made significant progress, and he has flourished within Vigneault's system.
The best is yet to come, and hopefully for the Rangers, Zuccarello is still a member of their team when that moment arrives.
Stats via The Hockey News, financial information via Cap Geek.