Whenever the upcoming NHL season actually gets underway, the Minnesota Wild will be without one of their veteran forwards. Michael Russo of The Athletic reports that Mats Zuccarello will not be ready for the start of the season and “may be out a good bit longer” after surgery on his right arm. The procedure was weeks ago, but he has flown from Norway to Minnesota to see the team doctors.
Zuccarello, 33, broke that right arm two seasons ago and Russo reports that though not necessarily related, it was discovered to have a torn ligament. The veteran forward played last season through discomfort, which potentially could be why his numbers declined quite drastically in his first year with Minnesota. In 65 games the undersized winger scored 15 goals and 37 points, which was the first time he failed to crack the 40-point mark in a year where he played at least 48 games. In Minnesota’s four postseason contests, he recorded just a single assist.
The five-year, $30MM contract that the Wild signed Zuccarello to in 2019 has been a disaster so far, especially given Paul Fenton, the GM at the time, was fired just a few weeks later. When combined with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild have more than $20MM in cap space committed through at least 2023-24 to a trio of players already in their mid-thirties. For a club trying to find their way under a new coaching staff and front office, that doesn’t bode well for the future.
Perhaps of course Zuccarello will be able to return at full strength and once again assume his place as one of the league’s top playmakers, but it’s now been several years since that 44-assist season in 2016-17. If he is out for a long period of time the Wild could potentially put his $6MM cap hit on long-term injured reserve in order to bring in a replacement—notably, Minnesota fan favorite Mikael Granlund remains unsigned—but it also could mean more opportunity for the young players in the system. Jordan Greenway still hasn’t reached the ceiling he has flashed as a top power forward, while first-round draft pick Marco Rossi will be battling for an NHL spot after returning from the World Juniors. Kirill Kaprizov was already guaranteed a spot, but this could mean even more responsibility and ice time lands on his shoulders as he makes the transition to the NHL.