The Minnesota Wild handed Jason Zucker a comparable five-year deal to the one Matt Dumba received, which makes a lot of sense since the situations were very similar.
While Dumba’s five-year contract comes out to a $30 million total (and $6M cap hit), Zucker receives $5.5M per year, or $27.5M overall. The team confirmed those details, along with his salary in each season, in case you needed a late-July reminder that a lockout could come in 2020-21 (throws confetti).
Like Dumba, Zucker enjoyed a true breakthrough in 2017-18, forcing a big expenditure from the Wild. Also like Dumba, his contract is mostly reasonable, and much of the grimacing comes in looking at the bigger, less promising overall salary structure.
In a vacuum, this is perfectly fair, and there was really only so much new GM Paul Fenton can do about holdover mistakes like the twin cringe contracts for Ryan Suter and especially Zach Parise.
No doubt about it, Zucker saw a significant spike in production this season.
The 26-year-old crossed the 30-goal barrier for the first time (33 goals) and blew away his previous career-high of 47 points, collecting 63 in 82 games. Especially worrisome types might see his 14.9 shooting percentage as a red flag even beyond that huge jump in production.
On the other hand, Zucker can only take advantage of the opportunities he’s given, and his numbers are awfully interesting.
To start, he enjoyed a fairly odd (yet impressive) first leap in 2014-15. During that season, Zucker pitched a “Cy Young” ratio of goals and assists at 21-5 in 51 contests. After a tough 2015-16, Zucker bounced back in 2016-17, and has been rising since. He’s generated a least 21 goals in three of his past four seasons since becoming an NHL regular.
Beyond that, it sure seems like he could be a true two-way gem, which is a comforting thought in case his offensive production slides. Zucker generated strong possession stats relative to his Wild teammates this past season, which was the second in a row where he was relied upon to start more of his shifts in the defensive zone rather than on offense.
All things considered, this seems like a pretty fair price for Zucker, as the two sides avoided salary arbitration. It’s fairly comparable to the deal Nino Niederreiter received, so Minnesota gets some nice two-way players on term. That’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it’s solid work.
The problem is that, when you zoom out, the Wild don’t seem like the greatest value as a team spending very close to the cap.
[Pondering the Wild’s ceiling.]
Signing Dumba and Zucker to their five-year deals counts as “the price of doing business,” and the same can be said for Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. Some of those deals will probably look like bargains, and the same rings true for Devan Dubnyk‘s affordable rate and the bargain Minnesota enjoyed with Eric Staal (though Staal’s entering a contract year).
Simply put, any misstep feels like plodding on additional Legos thanks to the difficulties of carrying $15M for Parise + Suter until 2024-25. Spending almost $3M for Marcus Foligno, risking $5.5M on an aging Mikko Koivu, and other decisions are tougher to stomach when the margin of error is small.
So such concerns tend to trickle down to guys like Dumba and Zucker. Their deals are fair, but they’re not necessarily cheap, so any stumbles get magnified. It chalks up to the negative domino effect of bad deals during the salary cap era.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.