Every NHL fan and owner's fear is having a top player get injured. It is even worse when the injury comes outside the realm of NHL activity. For James Dolan, Glen Sather and the entire New York Rangers fanbase, the injury suffered by Mats Zuccarello over in Sochi is disheartening.
Zuccarello is having himself a splendid little season in which he leads the Blueshirts with 43 points, 28 assists and is tied for second in goals with 15.
Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News reported the following on Zuccarello's injury:
Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left hand during the Winter Olympics, an MRI in Russia revealed, and the Norwegian forward is returning to New York on Thursday for further medical assessment, according to the Rangers.
With that in mind, how will the injury affect the Blueshirts? If Zuccarello is going to miss more than two weeks, the Rangers need to make a trade as soon as possible. No. 36 has been a huge facilitator of offense on the second line and the power play, so a prolonged absence would be dire.
With the trade deadline quickly approaching, it is make-or-break time for general manager Glen Sather. Over the next few days he needs to assess whether or not the Rangers have a roster worthy of competing for the Stanley Cup.
When you add the uncertainty of Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan remaining with the Rangers, this presents another challenge. Sather is already focused on these two key players, and now he needs to decide how to handle Zuccarello's injury.
Leonard's initial report also noted, "an initial Norwegian media report suggested the injury would not sideline Zuccarello for long, but no definitive timetable is known yet." Right now, there is a lot of speculation. Until Zuccarello returns to the United States, there is no way of knowing how serious his injury is.
Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, had the following tweet, and if true, the Rangers will catch a huge break (no pun intended):
This report suggests two weeks. Larry Brooks of the New York Post also had this to say:
This report is a little more encouraging, but there could still be some side effects from this injury in relation to Zuccarello's game. As one of the Blueshirts' top skilled forwards, Zuccarello's game relies on his hands and quick instincts.
This injury could limit Zuccarello's effectiveness for a while, and he may be tentative as he tries not to re-injure the hand. Injury aside, offense is an area in which the Blueshirts need to address before the deadline. The Rangers currently sit 18th in the league with a 2.56 goals-per-game average. Adding another scorer could help bump them closer toward the top 10.
Ultimately the Rangers could be a serious contender with a little more offense, because they have a strong defense and goaltender. If fans were frustrated with the team's offense before, they will be even more peeved while "Zuke" is sidelined.
This injury gives Sather and the Rangers an opportunity, because it is an excuse to make a trade to improve the team. Sather may have been willing to stand pat and play the odds in the offseason, but the loss of his leading scorer may force him to alter his plans.
If the St. Louis Blues are still interested in a package involving Chris Stewart for Callahan, Sather should be willing to see what else he could pry.
If that doesn't interest Sather, he should look elsewhere. The Rangers return to action on February 27 against the Chicago Blackhawks. They have a busy month ahead of them, so they are going to need all the help they can get.
With the playoff race heating up and the trade deadline approaching, making a trade to improve the top six and fill Zuccarello's spot makes the most sense for the interim and the future. Once Zuccarello returns, he can slot back into the lineup, and the team's offensive depth will be better than ever.
March 5 is almost here, so Sather should be doing his damnedest to strike a deal.