Mats Zuccarello to the Minnesota Wild: A Risky but Sensible Move by Paul Fenton.
It didn’t take long for the Minnesota Wild to show their hand for the upcoming season. Less than an hour into the free agency market, one of the main weaknesses from last season got a much-needed boost. Mats Zuccarello signed with the Wild for six million AAV for the next five seasons and is expected to help the Wild back into the playoffs. But, while getting a player with the skillset of Zuccarello will help in the quest for a Cup, the reaction from the fans has been mixed. Why is that? It’s due to the move being a huge gamble on Fenton’s part, and it being another move that leads the Wild further away from the rebuilding path that some fans desperately desire. But what are the upsides and downside of the move?
Let’s start with the good news for the Wild. They now have a fast and skilled goal scorer, who, when healthy, is one of the best in the league. Goal scoring was something the Wild lacked last season and they missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. It was a season where the offense, despite a nice resurgence from Zach Parise, was lacking massively, especially later on in the season. With 13 games left in the season, the Wild had all the chances of making the playoffs but were in a dogfight with the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche for the final playoff spot. The Minnesota Wild got shutout in five of these games and only scored more than two goals in three games. That resulted in a record of 4-8-1 in this period.
Had the Minnesota Wild had Mats Zuccarello on board there is a good chance some of these games could have been swayed to give the Wild the last spot. And that’s clearly what Fenton is hoping for next season, as well a healthy Matt Dumba on the blue line.
Another reason this is positive is the timing of the contract. While a lot of people have complained at the contract’s term and salary, I personally can’t see it as an issue for the Wild. Despite his older age, the fact that Mats Zuccarello isn’t the most physical player gives him longevity as a player. The main concern was his injuries last year, but that was the first season where he played less than 75 games as an established player. The worries are understandable as it’s a five-year deal, but the past seasons point to Zuccarello being able to at a high level for at least three to four years out of the five. After the fourth year, the contract is more than movable, as the Toronto Maple Leafs proved this off season with Patrick Marleau.
Another reason the contract won’t be an issue for the Minnesota Wild is the fact that the main players for the team are in a healthy spot in terms of the cap if they are smart about it. Despite having Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on long-term contracts, it’s far from bad as the next major contract they need to sign will be the one of Kirill Kaprizov who will be starting his ELC after this season.
Therefore, the Wild suddenly have four years to find the cap space for his upcoming contract. And within that time, contracts to Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Viktor Rask will more than likely be off the records. This will give them 12,750 million extra to work with. While its likely some will go to other prospects like Kevin Fiala, Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato, with the cap raise, there should be more than enough for the Wild to afford the Russian super prospect.
With all good out of the way, there is one part of the signing that’s a cause of worry and that is the no-movement clause. In normal years this wouldn’t be much of a worry, but in 2021 the Seattle expansion draft is happening and here the NMC is a key factor. Last time the Minnesota Wild lost Alex Tuch and Eric Haula to the Las Vegas Golden Knights and one of the culprits in this was NMCs. Especially the one to Ryan Suter which proved costly as the Minnesota Wild had to expose Matt Dumba and in order to save him, offer up one of the best forward prospects. This time, it doesn’t look like the defensive will be the main worry. Once again Ryan Suter’s NMC prevents him from being exposed and with the form Dumba showed, it’s beyond unlikely he will be exposed. Therefore, it’s either Brodin or Spurgeon that seem likely to be on the block comes 2021. Losing either wouldn’t hurt the Wild too greatly.
But then comes the worry ahead of it. The forward part of the ice has seven protecting spots, but with Zach Parise and now Mats Zuccarello both having NMCs the number is drastically limited. This could mean a very tight fight between Joel Eriksson-Ek, Luke Kunin, Jason Zucker, Jordan Greenway, Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato. This is a fight where someone would lose out and this would be more painful, since all players are in a fine age or under good contracts.
If that’s the case, Fenton might be tempted to make the mistakes of the past and potentially trade a prospect to keep the team intact. A move that I only see spelling disaster for the Minnesota Wild, as they eventually need to show that they can get the next generation of players and prospects up the hierarchy and into the lineup. If not, eventually Father Time will catch up and the Minnesota wild could become the new LA Kings or Detroit Red Wings, the thing fans fear the most in Minnesota.
Conclusion: Good for the Minnesota Wild
To summarize, this move will make Minnesota better in the short term. There is no doubt at all since as long as Zuccarello is healthy he should provide the Wild with a scoring touch they really need to get back to the playoffs. And those chances will increase with Mats Zuccarello donning the green and white jersey. The contract isn’t even as bad, and I can’t see it becoming a massive anchor in the future, due to the Wild having a decent cap situation. Where the problem occurs is within the no-movement clause. This can mean that a player like Zucker or Ek will end up being picked by Seattle in the expansion draft. This could cause a panic from Fenton and if that happens, the stagnation fears might come true for the Wild.
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