Penguins Upcoming Free Agent Zucker Sign ’em or Trade ’em

Penguins (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Penguins (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Penguins are tweeners.  As they stand right now, they are in between making the playoffs and missing out, for the first time in 17 years.

We all know the March 03.2023 NHL Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and that means upcoming Free Agents are officially on the Trading Block.  Or are they?

Guess who is an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of 2022-2023…Yup…#16.

Would you sign him right now, to a Long-Term Deal?  To a Term Deal?  Or Trade Him?

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A quick look at the NHL standings, shows the following…

Pittsburgh Penguins as of Feb 23.2023

27-20-9 = 63 pts

5th   -in the Metropolitan Division

8th -in the Eastern Conference (ties)

13th -Tied in the NHL (overall)

Pittsburgh Penguins are one point out of the #2 Wild Card Playoff Spot, Eastern Conference….ouch.

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Let’s look at Jason Zucker #16 LW, as of Feb 23.2023 and discuss what to do.

A 2010 Draft Pick of the Minnesota Wild, Zucker was traded to the Penguins, on Feb 10.2020.  Zucker has played four years with Pittsburgh.

He has become a leader on this team over the years.  His grit, heart and desire to give a hit, as well as take a hit, is appreciated by those of us who know that a Championship Winning Team needs a certain amount of aggressive play.

Zucker #16 – $5.5 Million – Age 31 – By the Numbers

52 – Games Started in 2022-23 (This is the most Games #16 has played, in his time with Pit).

15 – Goals  (This is the most Goals #16 has scored, in his time with Pit). (Ranked 4th overall on the Pittsburgh Roster)

18 – Assists  (This is the most assists #16 has, in his time with Pit). (Ranked 6th overall on the Pittsburgh Roster)

33 – Points (This is the most Points #16 has scored, in his time with Pit). (Ranked 5th overall on the Pittsburgh Roster)

Zucker has been in and out of the lineup for most of his time with Pittsburgh, due to injury.  Isn’t it interesting or is it just a coincidence, how this year, a Contract Year, is his Best Year, production wise, as a Penguin.  (Now where have I seen this story play out before?  Oh yeah, Letang….last year…yikes.)

Game Play

Zucker is a top 6 forward who can play up and down the line-up.  He has grit and sandpaper that make him really tough to play against in the corners as well as in front of the net.  He can score as well as make plays, in both ends of the rink.

Often injured, is the main headline, of his time with the Penguins to date.  However, when healthy, he can help the team win for sure.

Zucker is in the final year of his contract, making $5.5 Million.

Comparables as of Feb 23.2023

DeBrusk – Bos – Age 26 – F – 33 Points $4.0 Million Per Season

Tarasenko – NYR – Age 31 – F- 33 Points $3.75 Million Per Season

Henrique – Ducks – Age 33 – F- 33 Points $5.82 Million Per Season

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The Penguins have underperformed for most of this season and the Penguins FANBASE are fed up with this roster and its inability to close out games.

The Fans are clamoring for change.  Some fans have been asking for change for quite some time, while others were looking for some changes with last year’s group of Free Agents.

Remember last year when these players were Upcoming Free Agents?

Malkin #71 – Forward = re-signed.

Rust #17 – Forward = re-signed.

Rodrigues #9 – Forward = released at the end of the year as a Free Agent.

Kapanen #42 – Forward = re-signed.

Page down for details on the Term of Contract and Dollars that Penguins management gave each of these players. Which brings us today’s Cap Conundrum.

Ok Pens faithful, let’s see if history will repeat itself.

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My View from the Cheap Seats

Zucker #16 has been a good addition to the Penguins lineup, when he plays.  I like his grit in front of the net.  The issues are injuries.  It’s tough to be a difference maker when you are on the IR or up in the press box, recovering from injury.

Truth be known, I like Zucker and the way he plays the game.  The reality is, we all can see that the Penguins are an old team.  Is there a way to leverage this grinder and his $5.5 Million dollar contract, for some much needed youth?

We all know how valuable his game is in the playoffs.  The reality is, we have been witness to all those First Round Exists and something needs to change.

Zucker will command a good dollar as a Free Agent on the Free Market.  Injured Zucker, not so much.

The Penguins are an inconsistent team with veterans who know how to win.  They want to make a run for the Stanley Cup this year, however, they need a healthy Zucker to do so.

As the Penguins near closer to the March 03.2023 NHL trade Deadline, they are looking to Win Now as well as in the future.  I see this playing out three ways.

1-Signing Zucker to a Large Long-Term Contract, will severely handcuff the Penguins Cap structure, for the remaining term of this proposed deal.  I’m not convinced, with his body of work, that he has earned this contract.  Period.

2-Signing Zucker to a 2 or 3-Year Contract, matching the term left on the Crosby #87 contract, is an option, again as long as the money is right.  You might be able to back-end load the 3rd year if necessary ( I say drop the salary but maybe give an extra year or so?)

3-Play it out this season.  Try and make the playoffs, and have a long run at the cup, and maybe part ways, if Zucker wants to get rich elsewhere.

In my humble opinion, Zucker has been a good Penguin, and I would love to keep him for the right price.  However, history tells us #16 will continue to get hurt, off and on throughout any season.  Period.  And the Penguins need to become a Younger, Faster Team.

In todays Cap Era, a bad long-term contract can handcuff a franchise.  Pens Fans know all to well about that-see below.

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I forgot to mention, the Penguins still have these Upcoming Free Agents to consider Signing or Trading…

The A-List Upcoming Free Agents at the end of 2022-23.

Dumoulin-D >>>$4.1 Million

Jarry G >>>$3.5 Million

Blueger-LW/RW >>>$2.2 Million

Heinen LW/RW >>>$1.0 Million

Archibald Rw/Lw >>>$900k

Tokarski-G >>>$750k

Remember Last Trade Deadline / Free Agency…?

Letang-D – age 35 -signed for $6.1 Million over 6 years. (Gm MP: You knew he played lights out, crazy good for that final contract of his career and could not replicate that kind of production right?)

Malkin-F- age 36 -signed for $6.1 Million over 4 years.  (Gm MP: You knew his MVP days were in the past and that he is weak Defensively) (career 44% Face-off win %.)…right?

Rakell-F – age 29 signed for $5 Million over 6 years.  (Gm MP: You knew he hasn’t been a 30-goal scorer for 5 years now., and that he is a weak defender, and not tough along the boards…right?)

Kapanen-F age 26 -signed for $3.2 Million over 2 years.  (Gm MP: You knew he was brutal last year, and so you re-signed him for more term?  And he is underperforming again this year…or is he simply performing…you know what I mean…right?)

Heinen-F age 27 -signed for $1 Million over 1 year.  (Gm MP: As a depth guy, as mentioned above.  He hits and has some sandpaper.  He is not a scorer, but you knew that already…right?)

DeSmith-G age 31 -signed for $1.8 Million over 2 years. ( Gm MP: I was not convinced he was the answer, I’m still not convinced he is…but you were?)

Tokarski-G age 33 -signed for $775k over 1 year.  (Gm MP: Depth in G-ok, however after watching him play, he will not be the answer.  I can see it now, but you couldn’t?)

Quote of the Day:

Insanity is defined as

“Doing the same this over and over and expecting different results.”

Einstein – Physicist