2019 Worst Free Agent Signing: The Central Division

The offseason plods along as September approaches. When general managers get extended makes for compelling news, it is a sign. Anyway, for all those good signings there are always bad ones. Those are the contracts often remembered more anyway. The Central Division is no exception.

When combing through the signings, there was one that could go south faster than others.

Worst Central Division Signing?
Mats Zuccarello — W — Signed UFA with Minnesota (5 years, $30 million)

This quickly could become dicey for Minnesota and/or Zuccarello. The Norwegian played on a Dallas Stars team that was sound enough defensively. This allowed the winger to create more offensively than he could in New York with the Rangers.

Many expected a lesser money pact but in the end, Zuccarello found a desperate enough Minnesota team who just did not want to get left out in the cold when it comes to free agency. They were a Central Division team that had to do something to keep up with the Joneses.

Here is a bit more from PuckPedia.

Again, it is not to say that Zuccarello is a bad player. This is just to say a 32-year-old forward who has shown signs of aging at times is concerning. That early regression with the New York Rangers looked ominous.

Zuccarello’s numbers drive upward because of preservation and Jamie Benn. That’s correct. Benn drives play very well still. Who will do that in Minnesota to facilitate Zuccarello is a great question. Will it be Jason Zucker? Maybe someone else?

First, it is not easy to bounce back the way Mats Zuccarello did. When one considers how bad the Rangers were with Zuccarello struggling, it was like a light bulb switching on. The last two playoffs have seen the forward score four goals each time with a shooting percentage in the upper teens.

There is probably no way he averages 11 points every 13 games for Minnesota like he did with Central Division rival Dallas. The question would be why? Let’s answer that.

The Mats Zuccarello Point Pace Issue

Unfortunately, the Wild’s leading scorer had just 61 points. That was Zach Parise. Their third-leading scorer was traded to Nashville at the trade deadline (Mikael Granlund). Could Zuccarello find a way to score at a nearly 70 point pace? That feels very unlikely. Even 60 points would be a stretch. This has to do with two aspects — chemistry and playing time.

If Minnesota somehow finds a lineup that magically keeps everyone happy then that may be the miracle of miracles. Early projections suggest Zuccarello could be installed on the right wing on Zach Parise’s (just turned 35) or Jason Zucker’s line. Would the center be Mikko Koivu (off a season-ending injury) or Eric Staal?

Staal skates a little slower than Zucker or Zuccarello whereas Koivu would be even slower. Do those two clog things up for the speedy wingers a bit? That is not completely true. However, Staal and Koivu are both in their mid 30’s and Father Time is undefeated.

By the way, Staal turns 35 at the start of the 2019-20 season. Koivu turns 37 towards the end of the campaign. Minnesota aged rapidly and their prospects are among the bottom third in the NHL.

This truly is a case where Zuccarello may be struggling at times to find a fit.

Lastly, there is the Minnesota Wild edict…

Minnesota Wild ownership wants the playoffs and a deep run as well. With this top-six and core, is what Minnesota has enough? There are still concerns with the goaltending of Devan Dubnyk.

The Wild’s top-four defensively can score with most teams which is good news. Matt Dumba returning at full strength will be a huge boost but that will redistribute some of the points too. Even with Dumba, Minnesota was a bubble playoff team. With the Central Division improving as a whole, what does that mean for the Wild?

Minnesota may have to rebuild or retool constantly and that is less than optimal for Mats Zuccarello. Either way, this signing represents a worst-case scenario more for what surrounds the forward at first and then the inevitable age regression later.