The Minnesota Wild and Jason Zucker have finally found some common ground, agreeing to terms on a five-year contract worth $27.5MM. Zucker was scheduled for arbitration on July 28th, but instead will be locked up at a $5.5MM cap hit for the next five seasons. The year-by-year breakdown is as follows:
- 2018-19: $5.0MM
- 2019-20: $6.25MM
- 2020-21: $4.8MM
- 2021-22: $6.25MM
- 2022-23: $5.2MM
Zucker, 26, experienced a breakout season at exactly the right time in his career to maximize his earning potential. After three strong but not outstanding campaigns, Zucker exploded for 33 goals and 64 points in 2017-18 while playing in all 82 games for the Minnesota Wild. Though some of that had to do with the success he found on the powerplay, Zucker still scored 25 goals at even-strength which tied him for 14th in the entire league alongside players like Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall and Claude Giroux. With just one year remaining as a restricted free agent, the Wild needed to pay up to keep Zucker around or face a one-year arbitration decision and potentially losing him next summer to unrestricted free agency.
What they’ve accomplished by keeping Zucker’s cap hit to $5.5MM is potentially quite a bargain for the Wild, who could have one of the better even-strength producers in the league for a discounted price should he continue to play as well as he did last year. The five years at $5.5MM per season compares well with contracts like the ones given to Mika Zibanejad, J.T. Miller and even teammate Nino Niederreiter, none of whom have cracked 30 goals or 60 points in any season of their careers. While obviously each brings other talents to the table, Zucker should be able to easily produce enough to make the contract palatable as long as he doesn’t take a huge step backwards in the next few seasons.
That’s unlikely to really happen at any point in the contract given that the Wild have mostly locked up his late-twenties instead of early-thirties, giving them a chance to get out of the contract when a decline should be expected to start. Though they have other examples right in front of them like the continued brilliance of Eric Staal, the Wild haven’t taken on a ton of risk in this contract for Zucker, other than the fact they’re handing it out after a career season.
Still, there are some who might struggle to accept the offseason as a whole for Minnesota. After bringing in a new front office and GM with Paul Fenton, the team was expected to make some big changes to the core in order to try and go further in the playoffs and finally really compete for the Stanley Cup. Instead, they’ve handed out long-term contracts to Zucker and Mathew Dumba while failing to sign any real impact free agents outside of Greg Pateryn. With two big, long contracts still on the books with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the Wild will need some exceptional performances from some of their younger players while relying on repeat performances from Zucker and others.