With Jason Zucker coming off a 33-goal season, the Wild were right in signing him to a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension last summer. However, in year one of that five-year contract, Zucker did not make a favorable impression on his new general manager and it went as far as Zucker nearly being traded at the trade deadline.
If you look a bit deeper, you will find Zucker was still productive for the Wild, it just did not translate into goals as it did previously in 2017-18. The goals went down from 33 to 21, a fact that can largely be blamed on his 5-on-5 shooting percentage taking a nosedive comparative to his previous seasons in the league.
Between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 seasons, Zucker was shooting 11.7 percent at 5-on-5, and even scored 20 goals in two consecutive years prior to 2018-19. But then this past season, Zucker’s shooting percentage was a mere 6.8 percent despite 176 shots on goal. He just simply could not finish despite chance after chance.
One might think that due to Eric Staal‘s coming back down to earth season — 82 points down to 52 points — had a little bit to do with Zucker’s drop off, as Staal was the main center Zucker played with this season.
Zucker was still one of the better forwards on the team in terms of generating shot attempts at even strength, and he was incredibly good at drawing penalties on the opposition. Even though Zucker was doing everything except scoring goals — which is a notable problem — he still seemingly could not find any favor with general manager Paul Fenton who has now tried to unload him three times in the past year.
Despite the off year, one would think that Zucker would be poised for a rebound in 2019-20 given his ability to continue to generate scoring chances and just simply having a poor shooting percentage season that was well off his career average. But that is not the case with Fenton, who appears hellbent on moving Zucker before his modified no-trade clause kicks in on July 1 regardless of what he has done previously.
On a team that is still lacking speed, making several attempts to unload the speedy Zucker is another questionable move from the general manager. The most recent attempt — a trade that was apparently vetoed by Phil Kessel, who was involved in the trade — came with Pittsburgh where Zucker would almost certainly thrive alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie noted on his most recent podcast that a trade involving Kessel and Zucker could still happen, but it would be unlikely still given the fact Kessel already vetoed a trade to the Wild once. It doesn’t seem like much would change his mind in a matter of weeks.
Zucker’s run in Minnesota appears to be coming to an end, despite his on the record comments about wanting to stay here. His family is rooted here, and he has become a fixture in the community with his popular Give16 Campaign.
It is not a matter of if Zucker will be traded, but when, which is not a favorable situation for him. Especially considering this is now the second time he has been very publicly almost traded — the last coming at the trade deadline with Calgary.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said it best on Zucker in his May 25 column 31 Thoughts, “Someone is going to get a very motivated player.”