The Minnesota Wild seem dead set on trading Jason Zucker and, for the life of me, I can’t understand why. This seems like the epitome of buying high and selling low. The Wild signed Zucker to a 5-year, $27.5M contract after the 2017-18 season – a season in which he set a career high in goals (33) and points (64). While there are plenty of examples of teams signing players in their mid-20’s to ridiculous contracts after an outlier season, this wasn’t one of them. Zucker has scored 20+ goals four times and a $5.5M per-year cap hit is definitely reasonable considering only Zach Parise had scored more goals for Minnesota in the previous 3 seasons. Here’s why trading him now, for what appears to be a ‘change for the sake of change’ move, is a bad idea.
Zucker is coming off a 21 goal season, his lowest total in the past 3 years. His expected goals total was 26, meaning based on the quality and quantity of his chances, he should have scored more than he did and over a larger sample size, and he likely will. In fact, at even-strength, no Minnesota Wild player underperformed his expected goals output more than Zucker. He got plenty of good looks – they just didn’t go in at their expected rate. Consider this – only 11 players in the league played 1,000 even-strength minutes last season and averaged more scoring chances per 20 minutes than Zucker. Of those 11 players, five scored 40 or more goals and ten scored 30 or more. The only player in that group that didn’t score 30-goals was Josh Anderson, who finished with 27. Zucker might not have scored 25-30 goals last year, but the underlying numbers show he’s a 25-30 goal scorer.
So, tell me why trading Jason Zucker right now is a good idea? Smart, rival GM’s might realize he’s worth more than the numbers he put up last season, but it’s hard to imagine many who are going to offer fair value for him. The Wild, who finished 27th in goal scoring, can’t afford to part ways with one of their top goal scorers and not get equal value back. Fans of the team are likely feeling a little uneasy about this whole thing because you don’t have to go back far to find an example of the Wild making a questionable trade. In January they sent Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask. At the time, Wild GM Paul Fenton said of Rask, “If he comes in and he scores and takes that next step, then it really looks like a good trade.” Rask scored 3 points in 21 games for Minnesota while Niederreiter put up 30 points in 36 games for the Hurricanes. This isn’t revisioning history either, the trade was almost unanimously seen as a win for the Canes the day it was made. Now, with Zucker being aggressively shopped, I get the same feeling that the Wild are about to sell low on an undervalued asset.
Jason Zucker’s perceived value is not the same as his actual value and I’d be very careful If I were Minnesota before sending him to another team.
Zucker is going to score more than 21 goals next season. I’m willing to bet he scores between 26 and 33 goals – wherever he ends up playing. Even though the Wild appear to be looking to shed salary to reshape their roster in free agency, Zucker isn’t a guy I’d be too eager to part ways with. On the flip side, if I were an NHL GM, I’d be on the phone with Paul Fenton right now doing whatever I could to acquire one of the most undervalued trade commodities on the market.
(Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)