Like every veteran at this time of year, Mats Zuccarello is ready for the preseason to be over and for the season to start.
Even though he knows it could very well be his last season as a Ranger.
“I think everyone knows that this is where I want to be, and if we figure something out, that’s my main goal,’’ Zuccarello told Newsday Wednesday, before the Rangers hosted the Islanders at Madison Square Garden in their next-to-last game of the preseason. “But at the same time, if they don’t want me, there’s no point in me staying here if they don’t want me. Then I have to go.
“At the end of the day, it’s not up to me,’’ he continued. “I’ve got one year left on my deal and I’m here to compete and play well, and trying to do my best for the team to win as long as I’m here.’’
Zuccarello, 31, knows that might only be as far as the Feb. 25 trade deadline. He survived last season’s roster purge, watching as friends and longtime teammates Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller were traded away or bought out, changing the look and feel of the locker room. Now entering the final season of a four-year, $18 million contract, Zuccarello is well aware he could be the next one out the door.
Under different circumstances, the 5-8, 184-pound right wing would be a candidate to fill the vacant spot as team captain, but given his uncertain future with the club, that would be a little awkward.
Rangers coach David Quinn said he doesn’t worry about Zuccarello, or any other veteran players who may be unsure about their future with the club, giving less than everything they have to the team as it continues in its self-proclaimed rebuilding phase.
“I really don’t,’’ he said. “I just focus on coaching these guys the best I can and try and help them become better players. The contract situation’s really out of my control, and that’s how I look at it. It’s not my job.’’
Zuccarello scored 16 goals and had 53 points last season – right around his averages of 18.2 and 56.2 for the last five seasons. But he said he hasn’t talked with the club about any kind of contract extension.
“No. I haven’t really heard anything, and so, for now, my focus is that I got one year left and I’ll do my best this year to help the team win and we’ll see if they want me or not,’’ he said.
Asked whether he thought there was anything he could do this season that might change the Rangers’ view as to whether they want to keep him around, Zuccarello, a fan favorite, said he didn’t think so.
“No. I mean, this is going to be my ninth season going in here, and they know what to expect from me,’’ he said. “I’m going to do my best to give everything for the team, hard work; hopefully create some offense and play good defense, like I always do every year. So, for me, nothing’s going to change.’’
Notes & quotes: Mike Zibanejad had two goals and an assist, and Pavel Buchnevich had a goal and two assists in the Rangers' 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders on Wednesday night at the Garden. Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves. The Rangers finish their preseason schedule Thursday night in Philadelphia.