MINNEAPOLIS — If it seemed as if speedy winger Jason Zucker was at the epicenter of nearly every trade former general manager Paul Fenton tried to make, well, it’s because he absolutely was.
As much as Zucker tried to ignore the trade rumors, there was only so much he could do; Fenton seemed hellbent on trading from the moment he arrived in the Twin Cities, even agreeing to a couple of deals that fell apart at the last minute.
“It’s something where if it happens once, it’s in the back of your mind for a bit; and if it happens twice, it’s really in the back of your mind,” Zucker said Wednesday, July 31, before a Beauty League game at Edina’s Braemar Arena.
On Tuesday, July 30, owner Craig Leipold fired Fenton after only 14 months on the job.
“It was definitely something that was at the forefront of my life for a while. That said, it’s hard for me to fault him if he thought that was what’s best for the organization.”
That, of course, is no longer something Zucker has to worry about. You could say Zucker got the last laugh, although he won’t say it himself.
“It was a bit of a limbo-type setup for the entire year,” he said. “That’s part of the business. It truly is. That’s the way it goes. Your name gets floated out there all the time. I’m just glad the trade didn’t happen.”
Some trades did happen, though, and Zucker wasn’t shy about the fact that he thought they hurt the team as it tried to make a run at its seventh straight playoff appearance.
“If friends of yours are getting traded, and the team is transitioning, things are a bit off, right?” Zucker said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Chris Stewart a few years ago or if it’s (Nino Niederreiter) and (Charlie Coyle) and (Mikael Granlund) this year. You’re losing a teammate and a friend, and it’s always going to throw things off a little bit.”
In the weeks before trade deadline, Fenton obliterated the roster, shipping out Niederreiter, Coyle and Granlund for, respectively, Victor Rask, Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala.
“They were key guys on our team, and Paul brought in guys that he felt were going to be key parts to our team,” Zucker said. “You can’t fault him for moves that he felt were going to make us better. Whether we agree with it or disagree with it doesn’t matter.
“He felt like those were moves that were going to make the team better, and ultimately Craig disagreed and didn’t like what was happening and decided to go in another direction.”
Like almost everyone around the NHL, Zucker was shocked by the timing of Fenton’s dismissal. He got a phone call from Leipold before the news started to spread like wildfire on social media.
Although Zucker knows he will have to prove himself to the next person that takes over, whomever that might be, he’s not overly concerned about needing to make a big splash.
“Everybody has to prove themselves in front of a new general manager,” he said. “That said, I feel like I’ve proven myself in this league. I’ve showed that I’m annually a 20-goal scorer and I can definitely be a 30-goal scorer. That’s where I feel like I should be on a yearly basis.
“I feel like I’ve proven myself in this league. I don’t feel like I need to prove that I can play.”