15 minutes into the start of the free agency period, the Minnesota Wild announced their first signing as they inked right winger Mats Zuccarello to a five-year deal worth $30 million ($6 million average annual value).
The deal was first reported by Michael Russo of The Athletic on Sunday night. The deal includes a full no-movement clause and has a 10-team no-trade list in years four and five of the contract.
With the new winger being 32 when the 2019-20 season starts, the Wild are taking a considerable risk by handing that type of contract to Zuccarello. While general manager Paul Fenton has indicated previously he wants to make this team younger and more skilled, he did address a team need for a right side wing that can score 40-plus points. Minnesota finished the season 26th in the league in goals for last year, which was a crucial need for Fenton to address this offseason.
Zuccarello, the NHL’s all-time leader in points scored by a Norwegian-born player, will give the Wild exactly what they need — offense. He has six straight seasons of scoring 40 or more points, and had he not been cut down by injury this past year he would have a fourth straight season — and five of the past six — of scoring 50 or more points.
The 0.83 points per game mark in 2018-19 in just 48 games was the highest of Zuccarello’s NHL career.
What makes Zuccarello so valuable is that he is a tremendous passer offensively. Now before you get mad that the Wild have another guy who prefers to pass, Fenton has tried to infuse the lineup with some players who are more apt to shoot — Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato — and thus is giving them a fair shake to score some goals with an elite passer like Zuccarello. Also don’t forget Jason Zucker, whom Zuccarello could certainly be put on a line with, would be someone that could greatly benefit from Zuccarello’s passing abilities.
Also, a valuable offensive asset that comes with Zuccarello is his play on the power play, which he is able to help drive so well. Minnesota has always had issues with the power play in recent memory and adding a positive contributor to that department will greatly give the Wild another shot in the arm offensively.
But the detractor here is the five-year contract to Zuccarello at the age of 32. A decline is very likely, starting as early as the first season of his contract, however, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic says that the Wild are likely to still get good value from the winger in the first three to four years of this deal.
The fifth and final year will no doubt be problematic for the Wild, and the no-movement clause/10-team no-trade list in the last two years will hamper the Wild’s ability to move him should they feel his production has really fallen off. But in the short term, they are adding a forward who is capable of scoring 50-plus points on an offense that is simply not good.
Another detractor is the ripple effect Zuccarello’s arrival will have on the roster. Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato were projected to start the season as the first and second line right wings, but now they will be bumped down a line to make space for Zuccarello. Taking away valuable minutes and time from these young players Fenton has expressed an interest in building around seems to be counterproductive to that notion, but when you are getting heavy pressure from team ownership to win, you can’t have a season of growing pains at your right wing position. You need results.
The first three years will no doubt show Zuccarello to provide value to the Wild and their offense before the decline of years four and five. In the short term, this is a good move for Minnesota. But long term, what will the ramifications be from this contract? If the Wild want to move him will they be able to clear roster/cap space? Will they have to buy him out? Will the wingers that are bumped down the lineup from his arrival get the correct development they need to win?
Again, more questions are being raised than answers. But for now, just expect the Oslo, Norway native to give Minnesota a much-needed boost offensively.