What does Mats Zuccarello's future have in store?
(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

Mats Zuccarello has been a key player for this New York Ranger team over the last five years. Does he have a place on the team in 2018-19?

No one can deny the importance of Mats Zuccarello to the New York Rangers the last five years. But, with the Rangers in a rebuilding phase, his role might not be so simple next season.

The Rangers came out of the 2017-18 season a team that was focused on rebuilding and getting younger. That meant the likes of Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Michael Grabner would be on the move. Zuccarello’s name was thrown into the mix, but the Rangers ultimately decided against trading the 30-year-old forward.

All because Zuccarello survived the in-season rebuild, that doesn’t mean he has a guaranteed spot in 2018-19. The Rangers would be foolish not to go into the offseason listening to offers on Zuccarello. Of the remaining veterans that the Rangers have, Zuccarello might be the one to bring the most back in return.

You might be asking why should the Rangers trade Zuccarello? He is arguably one of their more important players and brings the team a familiar face.

For starters, Zuccarello’s contract expires at the end of the 2018-19 season. With a cap hit of $4.5 million, Zuccarello might just be the piece that Cup contending team thinks they need to put them over the hump. With his cap hit not being too much, that just makes a deal even more enticing. For that price and Zuccarello’s production, a team would be getting a very good player for a reasonable price. The Rangers, on the other hand, would be getting a nice package in return in line with their mission statement of getting younger.

Taking advantage of yet another expiring contract might be appealing to the Rangers. They did the same thing with Rick Nash and Micael Grabner last year. Surprisingly, general manager Jeff Gorton made out pretty well dealing the expiring contracts.

There is no guarantee that Gorton could get the packages he would like for Zuccarello if he waited for the deadline. By moving him now, the Rangers can get the best package possible for him and put him back in a winning environment.

Should the Rangers move Zuccarello, they also would gain more cap space for free agency. There are some enticing free agents out there like John Tavares, John Carlson, Evander Kane, and James Neal are some of the big names set to hit the market this summer.

Realistically speaking, Zuccarello’s value to the Rangers his way higher than the value he would bring to a contending team. Over the last three seasons, he has led the team in points. In that span, he scored 173 points while reaching the 20 goal plateau just once. For the Rangers, he is their best forward. For another team, he is a solid second, maybe even third, line player. With that in mind, a team would still be willing to acquire someone who puts up 50 points a season.

There is also the option of doing nothing and keeping Zuccarello. Should the Rangers do that, they would show the league that 2017-18 was just a fluke and they are back in business. They might be restricted in terms of cap space, but that would open up other options. Those options can include trades involving other players, lesser free agents, or doing nothing and going into next year with the same team.

One thing is for certain, Zuccarello’s role entering the 2018-19 season is filled with more questions than answers. As the Rangers offseason plan starts to become more apparent, we will know more about where is future stands in New York.

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Dominick is a graduate of Canisius College. He has covered the Rangers for the last seven seasons and the Yankees for the last four.