Jason Zucker has been one of the Minnesota Wild’s more consistent players over the years. He has improved nearly every season in the NHL, excluding his 2015-16 season. He currently ranks at No. 8 in all-time goals for the Wild, totaling 83 goals in 296 games. His speed seems to surprise everyone each time he touches the puck. He recently turned 26 and is now headed into his prime.
This offseason, he will become a restricted free agent, after signing a two-year, $4 million contract in 2016. He is a strong candidate to receive a significant bump in his salary when he inks his name on his next contract. If the Wild are not interested, there will certainly be other teams drooling over the speedy playmaker. Although none are likely destinations except one in particular…
Vegas Golden Knights
Zucker is the first NHL player from Vegas, giving obvious ties to the franchise. His family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada when he was only two months old. This led to him playing on roller blades as he learned to appreciate the game. Following in his brothers’ footsteps, he would go to the local ice rinks within the casinos in Vegas. He has seemed thrilled in the past with the prospect of a professional hockey team in Vegas. Although, he feels “content” playing for the Wild.
The Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest expansion team has been nothing short of dominant during their inaugural season. Adding a player of his caliber would bolster the roster, with additional scoring, experience and quickness. The Golden Knights, before re-signing any of their players, will have a projected $34 million in cap space for the 2018-19 season. If they were really interested in making a splash on a hometown player, Zucker would be a tremendous addition to their team.
It is unlikely that the Golden Knights will make a move for him, considering they have players like James Neal who will need to be re-signed. It would also cost Vegas an assortment of draft picks that will be valuable, even for a team as successful as they have been. To a lesser extent, Zucker recently purchased a $1.8 million home in Edina, Minnesota. Obtaining the first Vegas player would be a nice story for Vegas, but it seems unlikely.
Zucker Brings Goals but Do the Dollars Make Sense?
Zucker scored 22 goals in 79 games during the 2016-17 campaign. His next best effort was in 2014-15, when he racked up 21 goals in 51 games. This season, in 48 games he has scored 19 goals. He is on pace to shatter his previous scoring outputs in goals and assists. His speed and relentlessness make him a threat whenever he is on the ice. Before this season he only scored three goals on the power play, due to lack of minutes. The 2017-18 campaign has led to more ice time during special teams, and it has translated to four goals on the power play at this point in the season.
Zucker’s fellow teammate, Nino Niederreiter, inked a 5-year, $26.25 million contract this past offseason. They are different players, but generally have finished their seasons close together for goals. Mikael Granlund, who also signed a new extension, has a 3-year, $17.25 million contract. Given his development and how young he still is, it is likely that he will want a contract somewhere in the range of what his teammates signed. The Wild will have limited cap flexibility again, with both Zucker and Matt Dumba coming off the books when the 2017-18 season comes to a close.
Anywhere between $4-5 million per season is the price range that makes the most sense. Zucker is, debatably, the best goal scorer on the Wild roster. His greatest strength – speed – is something that the Wild lack. That alone makes him a very valuable player to the club. With him being a restricted free agent, the dollar amount will be the biggest issue rather if he will dress in a Wild uniform to kick off the 2018-19 season.
Wild With Speed
Since the Wild made a deal with Vegas to take Eric Haula, Minnesota has been visibly slower. The Wild need to hold on to Zucker if they want to remain a fast-paced team (veterans such as Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu make it hard.) Hopefully, the Wild can avoid the arbitration drama from last season. Luckily, they were able to work something out before the arbitration process began, with only the players filing. It certainly seems that there is mutual interest between the two parties and that a deal will be worked out. The Wild clearly like him, as they made sure to protect him during the expansion draft. Zucker, in another strong season, should be Minnesota’s number-one priority this offseason.