After logging more than 500 games with the New York Rangers over a near-decade-long stretch with the storied club, former fan favourite Mats Zuccarello will make his return to Madison Square Garden Monday night.
But while the 32-year-old figures to receive a warm welcome from the Rangers’ faithful, it appears the relationship between the winger and the team’s front office is still somewhat frosty given how his trade out of New York went down.
“It was tough to accept in the beginning because you’re passionate about your team and loyal and everything like that and you gave everything every game, and then suddenly it comes to an end. Suddenly they don’t want you anymore,” Zuccarello told NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin on Sunday.
Zuccarello was moved to Dallas at last year’s deadline for a package of conditional draft picks — a 2019 second-rounder and a 2020 third-rounder — before eventually signing with the Minnesota Wild in the off-season.
While he says he understood the reasons for shipping him out of town as the club committed to its rebuild, the Norwegian standout said it was how the team dealt with him leading up to the trade that rubbed him the wrong way.
“That was probably my biggest thing is the communication wasn’t really there,” Zuccarello told Benjamin. “To be there for a long time and (not to) feel that was hard, but it’s no different for me than anyone else. I just think that’s the bad part of the business.
“Like, I’m not stupid. You have a sense of it way before it happens, but the communication could have been better. It is what it is. It’s in the past, something you have to accept, like I said. It took me longer to accept than I ever thought it was going to be because you always have the mindset that you’re going to stay there and it was your family, and then suddenly you’re on a new team.”
He wasn’t the only one hit hard by the trade. Teammate Henrik Lundqvist, who suited up alongside Zuccarello in Rangers colours for all nine of the latter’s years with the team, was moved to tears back in February when asked to discuss what No. 36 had meant to him and to New York after the winger had been dealt.
Now set to reunite in their old barn, Zuccarello said he has no expectations one way or another about how the Garden will react to his return.
“We’ll see when we get there.”