Mats Zuccarello’s start with the Dallas Stars could not have gone worse. He was injured in his first game with the team after being acquired at the trade deadline and missed all but one of the remaining regular season games. One of two conditional picks that went back to the New York Rangers had the possibility of being upgraded if Zuccarello worked out well enough in Dallas to earn a contract extension. Yet, heading into the playoffs, few were likely looking at Zuccarello as a long-term piece in Dallas following that unfortunate start.
That all changed in the first round, as Zuccarello came up big with three clutch goals and looked like a natural fit with the Stars. His efforts helped to lead Dallas to an upset of the Nashville Predators and on to the second round. All of a sudden, Zuccarello has the support of his teammates and the fan base and indeed looks like he may be more than just a rental. But, as the New York Post’s Larry Brooks writes, Dallas’ leadership faces a tough decision in that regard. Brooks issues a reminder that if the Stars re-sign Zuccarello, they will give up a first-round pick to the New York Rangers in 2020 instead of the third-rounder initially transferred in the deal. The Stars are already at risk of losing their 2019 first-rounder, which goes to New York in place of their second-rounder if the team reaches the Western Conference Final with Zuccarello playing in at least half of those games. If Dallas defeats the St. Louis Blues, with Zuccarello continuing to be an impact player, would they really surrender two straight top picks to keep the veteran winger in town?
Zuccarello is set to turn 32 prior to next season and his point totals have dropped in each of the past three seasons. Dallas stands little chance of getting great value on a new contract for the veteran forward. Yet, even on a downward trajectory, Zuccarello is still a top-ten free agent winger. The Stars already have him in the building and he is building chemistry and familiarity with their core. It could be a mutually beneficial scenario for both sides and the Norwegian scorer could be amenable to staying with the Stars at a reasonable term and rate. If Dallas opts to let him walk instead, they stand a decent chance of missing out on any of the better targets. Is that a gamble worth keeping a first-round pick? There are far more factors yet to be determined, but the Zuccarello situation will continue to be a lingering topic during Dallas’ current postseason run.