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Stars snag Zuccarello to bolster second line as Rangers' rebuild gets a few extra pieces

Mats Zuccarello's tenure on Broadway has finally come to a close. The Rangers dealt the diminutive top-six forward to the Stars, where he'll saddle up on the second line to help Dallas down the stretch.

You can see how this might be a little difficult for New York Rangers fans to swallow. First, they lose a beloved player, a talented small man who always punched higher than his weight class. In doing so, he became beloved on Broadway, where he has been a regular since 2010. Second, if the organization was going to give up a player so revered, it might have been expected to get a little more in return.

But that ignores a couple of factors. The first of which is teams, and by extension their fans, have to be realistic about what they’re going to get in return for a 31-year-old player on an expiring contract who has been slowed by injuries. The going rate for a player of that ilk is a couple of draft picks and that’s exactly what Rangers GM Jeff Gorton received from the Dallas Stars. And in receiving a conditional second-round pick in 2019 and a conditional third-rounder in 2020, Gorton insulated the Rangers against the possibility that Zuccarello could go somewhere else and contribute to a long playoff and/or re-sign with the Stars.

The second rounder becomes a first-rounder if the Stars make it to the Western Conference final. And the 2020 pick becomes a first-rounder if they manage to re-sign Zuccarello in the off-season. That’s pretty darned creative. It will be interesting to see what Gorton has up his sleeve in expected deals involving Kevin Hayes, Adam McQuaid and, quite possibly, Chris Kreider.

As for the Stars, they rely heavily on their top three forwards, almost as heavily as the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers do. They are simply far too easy to shut down, particularly when they play together. Most recently, Jamie Benn has been replaced on the top line by Roope Hintz in order to spread out the scoring. With Zuccarello in the lineup, that potentially gives the Stars a second line of Radek Faksa between Benn and Zuccarello. Would that be enough to carry the Stars through two rounds of the playoffs? Probably not. Hell, they might not even gain a wildcard spot in the Western Conference turtle race. But it does give the Stars some speed, gumption, experience and talent on the right side.

For the Rangers, it’s obviously all about the future, and will continue to be as Gorton sells off more players prior to Monday afternoon’s deadline. The dream scenario for the Rangers would be that the Stars win two playoff rounds and re-sign Zuccarello and the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup. That would give the Rangers three first-round picks in 2019 and two first-rounders in 2020, which would help immeasurably in the rebuild. Next on the docket will likely be Hayes, another career Ranger who has been unable to gain traction on a long-term extension with the team. By dealing them, Gorton gives both players an opportunity to be part of a winning organization now, instead of three or four years from now.

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