The Price of Loyalty
Last week, long time Ranger, and fan favorite, Mats Zuccarello came out with some unfiltered statements with news reporters back in Norway. Commenting on how he was treated two deadline days ago. He seems to be extremely bitter about the trade and how everything involving it went down. Among many other things, Zucc stated, “Everything was going to be fine and great, but then management decides, and then you’re not worth shit”. He also commented on the way Henrik Lundqvist is being treated in the current situation, “It’s absolutely upsetting that he is being treated that way. Did anyone ever think that this was going to happen to Henrik Lundqvist? No one!." This is the topic we will be discussing in our next article.
There is a lot to say about this topic because I feel as if it is not addressed enough. Everyone always comments on the loyalty of players but never once have they questioned the loyalty of the organizations. Teams and organizations can use the simple statement “it's a business” when they decide to trade away a player who has given them nothing but respect and loyalty. However, if that same player were to accept a contract in free agency with another team, they would be viewed as a villain and they would be hated by the organization and its fans. Take John Tavares for example, he accepted a contract with Toronto in 2018 to play in his hometown, something he stated to have been a childhood dream, and has been hated by Islanders fans ever since. How can you fault a player who just wants to fulfill his dreams?
In Zuccarello’s case however, it is not as cut and dry as we make it out to be. At the end of the 2018 season, the New York Rangers decided to ship off most of their talent for draft picks and prospects in the hope of a full turnaround. The organization made this clear from day 1 and even sent out a letter to fans notifying them of the rebuild which would take place very soon. With this being the case, it was known that a lot of the Rangers best players would be shipped off. Zuccarello was not one of the Rangers thought to be moved though. Putting up almost 60 points consistently with the Rangers, Zucc was one of the most energetic and downright passionate players the organization has ever seen. There was not one night where Zucc wouldn't spur up some sort of crowd chant with his tenacity and constant drive to be the hardest worker on the ice. Even with that being the case, Zuccarello did not have much trade value assigned to his name. An older player such as himself would be used as a rental for a team making a final playoff push and teams tend to not give away much for an older player that they wouldn’t even get half of a season out of. When entering the rebuild however, the Rangers organization did not see the 31 year old, whose contract was expiring at the end of the season, fitting into their squad and the Rangers decided to trade Mats to the Dallas Stars for 2 conditional draft picks, not at all a worthy price for the player. There was some uproar, because of the love he had amongst Rangers fans, but most believed the story that it was for the betterment of the team.
Photo by Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports
I however, do not think this was the case. Mats Zuccarello would most likely have become the 30th captain in Rangers history. A player of his quality, integrity, and loyalty does not come around often and to ship him off with no second thought is a crude and irresponsible way to handle the situation. Mats would have been a role model for players like Kakko, Fox, and Chytil who are trying to hone and develop their skills at the NHL level. What better mentor to have than someone who will fight every single night, day in and day out, for his club. These are the types of players we want within this organization. Not showing the same loyalty and respect to your players as they do to you is a very dangerous situation. Zucc stated, “Now you see that being nice to a club, or taking less pay because you're loyal, turns out to be just nonsense” and he’s completely right! Why would any player take less money to stay with a team that would not show them the same respect and loyalty. It fosters a relationship where players don’t play for the love of the club, but out of fear of the club. Mats, a player who did take less money to stay with the Rangers back in 2014-15, felt as if his loyalty and respect for the club was not rewarded back to him. Most players understand that there is a business side to the game and that there is a lot of money at stake, which is why comments like these are not made very often. However the lack of communication by the New York Rangers Organization before they moved him especially after he took a pay cut for them is unacceptable.
If the Rangers want to create a winning environment they need to trust in their players and show them more respect than Mats was shown. Having life long Rangers scared about their future with the club because of their growing age or even a single bad play in the defensive zone is outrageous. I understand that if a player is not producing for you the way he is supposed to or used to, something needs to be done. However, communication with that player is the most important thing. If a trade is what is best for the organization, I'm sure Zucc would have been okay with it if he was told exactly why the organization had to part ways. However when there is no communication, things can get ugly very quickly.