New York Rangers: The Zuccarello trade talk heats up

NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 29: Mats Zuccarello #36 of the New York Rangers skates against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on December 29, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mats Zuccarello is back to playing  hockey the way he has for the New York Rangers for the last five years. With four goals and nine points in his last five games, he has revived a moribund season and is driving up his trade value.

If you look at Mats Zuccarello’s track record, there is a lot to like. He has led the Rangers in scoring for the last three years.  He’s a passing wizard and plays a physical, aggressive game. He’s the ultimate competitor and a hardened playoff veteran.

Enter the Edmonton Oilers.  The Oilers are a team in turmoil.  They are on the outside of the playoff bubble, three points out of the last wild card spot and mired in sixth place in the Pacific Division, 13 points behind third place Vegas. They’ve already fired their coach and hired veteran Ken Hitchcock.

They are in danger of missing the playoffs despite the fact that they have arguably the finest talent in the game in Connor McDavid and a surrounding cast that includes five top four draft picks.  McDavid is losing his patience with the team and put it all out after losing two games this weekend:

Enter Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton General Manager.   Rumors have been swirling about his future if the team misses the playoffs a second straight year.   He just signed goalie Mikko Koskinen to a three year $14.5 million contract.  Koskinen is a 30-year old Finn who came over from the KHL this season and has replaced Cam Talbot as the top goalie.

What is infuriating Oilers fans is that they gave a contract worth $4.5 million a year to a 30-year old  goalie who has played all of 31 games in the NHL with a 2.97 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.  It does raise questions.

To make matters worse, the team placed Ty Rattie and former Ranger Ryan Spooner on waivers.  Spooner had two goals and one assist in 24 games since his trade from New York.  Ryan Strome has six goals and 11 points for the Blueshirts and is centering the team’s second line in Kevin Hayes’ absence.

Why Zuccarello?

Mat Zuccarello would be a perfect fit for Edmonton.  They are in dire need of secondary scoring with their bottom two lines accounting for only 22 goals this season (the Rangers scored 50).  It’s likely the Oilers would also be interested in Kevin Hayes if the price was right.

The Oilers have already been active on the trade front, making two deals at the end of December.  They acquired defenseman Alex Petrovic from Florida and defenseman Brandon Manning and Swedish defense prospect Robin Norell from Chicago.  To get Manning, the Oilers gave up 24-year old winger Drake Caggiula, who was one of their few bottom six wingers who was scoring.

With all of these deals, it’s obvious that Chiarelli is gunning for the playoffs and is willing to do anything to get there.  He’s never been shy to pull the trigger on a deal and the Rangers could take advantage of that.

What could they get?

Elliotte Friedman was on the radio in Calgary and opined that the OIlers would be willing to give up their first round draft pick, though former #4 pick Jesse Puljujarvi could be available as another trade option.

Deadline deals are fine, but trading with playoff teams for draft picks means the picks will inevitably be in the #20-31 range.  That’s why a deal with Edmonton would be attractive to the Rangers since the Oilers are currently sitting tenth from the bottom in the NHL.

Friedman did say that if they gave up the pick, they would probably want to make it a protected pick in case they miss the playoffs and it ends up as a top three pick through the lottery.  Most GM’s don’t want to be in the same position as the Ottawa Senators who gave up a first rounder to Colorado in the Matt Duchene deal and that pick has turned into a possible guaranteed top five selection.  With interest in Zuccarello rising, Jeff Gorton should not accept those terms.

Other options could be a protected #1 pick and a prospect like winger Tyler Benson or center Cooper Marody.  Since both are playing in the AHL this season, they will have to be protected in the expansion draft in two years.

Another thing to consider is the manhandling McDavid took at the hand of the Calgary Flames.  An Adam McQuaid would add a lot to an Oiler defense in need of some toughness.

So, what happens?

With Chiarelli making all of these moves now, it’s clear that he knows that the Oilers cannot wait to revive their season.  They have to start winning now.

In that case, a trade with the Rangers could be coming sooner than later.  There have already been 15 trades since the trade freeze was lifted after Christmas.  Last year there were three, the year before only five. It appears that NHL general managers are not content to wait until the trade deadline and are willing to make moves without waiting to see where they stand on deadline day

What this means is that Jeff Gorton will be a busy bee over the next few weeks. Once he has solid offers for his impending free agents, he will begin shopping them in earnest.   Edmonton is not the only club that has shown an interest in the Rangers’ trade bait. The Oilers can jumpstart the process by making a bid for Mats Zuccarello.

One more thing about the Norwegian.  In a market like Edmonton where hockey is everything, adding a fan favorite like Zuccarello would be a home run for Oilers management.  That’s no small factor considering the anger fans have towards Chiarelli and the front office.

Late Breaking News: Chiarelli Fired

This article was written before Peter Chiarelli was fired by Edmonton ownership late Tuesday after a loss to Detroit.  As of this writing, no announcements have been made about a replacement.  Still only three points out of a wild card spot, there’s no reason to believe that Edmonton will not try to improve and make the playoffs, so all potential deals are still out there.