Last Contract: One year, $1.15 million
Career Stats: 144 Games Played, 30 Goals | 63 Assists | 93 Points
2013-14 Season: 77 Games Played, 19 Goals | 40 Assists | 59 Points
Mats Zuccarello is the most interesting restricted free agent for the Rangers.
He is currently 26 years old and one year away from unrestricted free agency. He had an amazing season under Alain Vigneault, and he showed that he could be a consistent player for an entire season, something he was unable to do in past appearances with the club.
In previous stints, Zuccarello had recorded 23 points in 42 games, three points in 10 games and eight points in 15 games. This past year was his first full season as an NHL player, and he led the team in scoring with 59 points in 77 games.
Zuccarello got better as the season went on—partially because of chemistry with Derick Brassard and departed forward Benoit Pouliot—and he always played bigger than his size. The skilled right-winger is aptly nicknamed "Hobbit" because of his diminutive frame of 5'7" and 161 pounds, but that doesn't stop him from playing a physical game along the boards or standing up for a teammate.
The fine line the Rangers need to walk with Zuccarello is not with dollars, but with term. Zuccarello is coming off a career year, but will he be able to replicate his performance without Pouliot on his line this year?
This is something the Rangers could consider when trying to justify offering a Zuccarello a lower contract. Based on Zuccarello's ability to set up linemates, his skating ability and his vision, it could be argued that Pouliot benefited more from Zuccarello than vice versa.
Ultimately the Rangers don't want to Ville Leino the situation by giving Zuccarello a huge raise based off one season. They also don't want to sign him to a one-year deal, have him take another step forward and then get burned when trying to re-sign him before he hits traditional free agency.
With that considered, what should the Rangers do?
Projected Deal: Four years, $17 million, $4.25 million cap hit
Any multiyear contract for Zuccarello would involve the purchase of UFA years.
In short, the Rangers would be paying an increased price for the years in which he could have tested the open market. On the open market, there would be teams willing to pay Zuccarello $5 million or more.
Just look at what the Florida Panthers paid for third-line center Dave Bolland if you don't believe me. Zuccarello is young, and a four-year deal would take him to age 31.
It would also be one year longer than Brassard's contract, so there would be no dilemma of signing both during the same summer.
A $4.25 million cap hit is a fair ticket for a 55 to 60-point plus scorer, even more so when you consider the salary cap is going to increase significantly in the coming years.