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Busy summer for Zucker as negotiations continue

Restricted free agent looking forward to new contract after filing for arbitration

by Phil Ervin / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Jason Zucker spent the better chunk of his Tuesday morning speaking to more than 300 high school and collegiate hockey captains and coaches about the importance of leadership. This weekend, he'll be at Izaty's Resort on Mille Lacs Lake taking part in this year's Wild on the Water fishing tournament. He continues to make regular appearances on KFAN 100.3's Power Trip Morning Show, has signed autographs at a local Audi dealership and hosted a charity golf event with friend and Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph late last month.

All this for a man who technically doesn't have an NHL contract.

"I want to be in Minnesota. I love Minnesota," the restricted free agent forward said at the second annual Minnesota Wild Leadership Summit Minnesota Wild Leadership Summit presented by West Bend Mutural Insurance. "My family roots are now here. This is a second home to us, and I want to be here. I think we have a great team and we have a lot of really good things going for us, but there's also a lot of things that I can't control with that.

"I'll say this: to this point, I'm still part of the Minnesota Wild. Until that changes, I'll still be involved in the community."

Video: MIN@MTL: Zucker records his first career hat trick

The NHL announced July 7 that Zucker and teammate Matt Dumba, also a restricted free agent, were two of 44 players to file for arbitration as part of this year's free agency cycle. Salary arbitration hearings will be held from July 20-Aug. 4; players can sign a contract with their current team any time before an arbitrator's ruling.

Zucker said Tuesday he hopes to be part of the latter scenario. It's relatively rare that a restricted free agent who files for arbitration to actually get to the hearing portion of the process.

"We'll continue that. We'll start that now," Wild general manager Paul Fenton said in reference to Zucker and Dumba's contracts July 1 after signing seven unrestricted free agents. "We talked at the draft last week and we made initial contact and now that this hectic day is over with I'm sure we're gonna get back on that."

In any case, reaching arbitration means Zucker will receive a contract. His camp and the Wild front office -- which has about $14 million in cap space -- just have to agree on the length and amount.

That dialogue is ongoing, Zucker said.

"Deadlines are a good thing," Zucker said. "I can guarantee you by July 30 I'll have some kind of a contract. I can't tell you what that is, but there will be one. I'm looking forward to that time."

In the meantime, the 26-year-old father and husband will continue bouncing back and forth between the Twin Cities and his hometown of Las Vegas. Between offseason workouts -- either at home, Xcel Energy Center or other locales here and in the desert -- he's been able to spend more time with his eight-month-old son Hendrix, daughter Sophia and wife Carly, attend a wedding in Vail, Colorado and mix a couple of family vacations among his June trip to Vegas for the NHL Awards.

"I can't speak for Carly, but I've enjoyed all of it," joked Zucker, a finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community. "It's a lot during the season. You don't get to be with the family much or kids much and you miss a lot of things, especially with Hendrix how quick he's growing. It's a lot of fun to be home and be able to get up with him in the mornings and not have to be anywhere. Obviously I have my trainings and those things, but it's a little bit more flexible than it is during the season."

He's also had a chance to digest a season that saw him rank second on the roster with 33 goals and 64 points but ended with a first-round playoff exit against the Jets. After thinking back on his team's performance, Zucker says he and the Wild are close to making the deep playoff run its players, coaches, owner, general manager and fans covet.

"I'm very confident that I can be better, and I'm not satisfied with scoring 33," Zucker said. "That doesn't necessarily mean I'm guaranteeing 40 goals; I'm just going to guarantee myself that I'm going to be a better player next season. That's what I worry about, and that's in all aspects of the game. That's defensively, that's offensively ... it's taking a bigger role in the locker room and everything that I feel I can be better at, I'm going to be working on right now.

"I'm already in the process of that, so for next year I can promise you I'll be a better hockey player."

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