From a financial standpoint, the buyout of Brad Richards is looking better each and every day, especially with the news coming out via Larry Brooks of the New York Post that Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard want to get paid.
It was expected that both would be looking for a raise given their success this past season, but general manager Glen Sather needs to start thinking about what is best for the New York Rangers.
Zuccarello, who would likely be in the $3.7 million-$4 million arbitration range off his club-leading 59-point season (19-40), is believed seeking a multi-year deal for at least $4.5 million per. Brassard, who would likely be in the $4.5 million-$4.75 million arbitration range off his 45-point (17-28) year, is believed to be looking for a long-term deal worth approximately $5.5 million per.
With that in mind, how should the Blueshirts proceed with two of their most important players from last season? While they were two of the Blueshirts' best, the Rangers should take a different approach with each player.
What should the Rangers do with Derick Brassard?
At this point, it makes the most sense to negotiate a multiyear deal with Zuccarello and continue to arbitration with Brassard.
While Brassard is a solid center, he is not a $5.5 million center. I explained the logic behind that when talking about what the Rangers should do with Derek Stepan, but I'll rehash here. Brassard is a 45-point center who could potentially hit the 50-point ceiling with some luck.
He is a great offensive talent and an ace on the power play, but consistency has not been a strong suit of his.
Brassard showed some consistency and growth under bench boss Alain Vigneault, but it makes more sense to take the one-year deal via arbitration, because last season might have been a one-hit wonder.
If Brassard goes on to prove himself, he will get his deal next summer, when the Rangers have the benefit of more cap space and a higher salary cap. As the New York Post report notes, arbitration could give him a raise to $4.5 or $4.75 million. That is a palatable number for this season, and one I suggested two weeks ago.
Zuccarello, on the other hand, is worth signing to a long-term deal near $4.5 million, because he is coming off a great year in which he showed growth as a player. While it is true that the Norwegian Hobbit set a career high for total points, he clearly was a changed player.
Since returning from the KHL, Zuccarello has been an aggressive player who has become more physical in nature despite his small stature of 5'7" and 175 pounds. Last season he used his great vision and playmaking abilities to set up his teammates, but he also got involved behind the net and along the half walls.
In addition, when you look at Zuccarello's career as a whole, there is enough evidence to believe that last year wasn't a fluke. He produced in a shortened stint prior to last year, and his new playing style should benefit him in the long run.
What should the Rangers do with Mats Zuccarello?
For a 60-point—or potentially better—winger, $4.5 million per year is a great value. Depending on the amount of years given, it is quite possible that the Rangers could get him on a deal lower than that, but $4.5 million is less than he would get on the free-agent market, so team brass should not look to pinch pennies in this situation.
Locking up Zuccarello would be great for the Rangers, and it would be the continuation of a great story that started when the Blueshirts signed him after a showcase 2010 Winter Olympics.
The clock is ticking, and the Rangers need to decide soon what their next move will be. Brassard's hearing is scheduled for July 28, while Zuccarello's is slated for July 25. There is some time left to hash out deals, but taking too long could be costly in the long run.