For a while now, it’s seemed like Michael Del Zotto’s days as a New York Ranger were numbered. He was made a healthy scratch by coach Alain Vigneault eight times this season and the way the coach described his offense-minded defenseman showed he had very little confidence in him.
For example, there’s this tidbit from Vigneault that appeared on the New York Daily News website Dec. 31:
“(Del Zotto’s offensive and power play abilities) haven’t been there on a consistent enough basis to say that even if he has a bad game or two, he’s an automatic shoe-in. The way he’s played, he’s fighting for that third-pair ‘D,’ and depending on his performance, he’s in or he’s out.”
Del Zotto was put in the press box for that night’s game against Florida.
So, clearly the Rangers weren’t about to reinvest in a player who will be an RFA this summer and looking for a raise. Since his last contract, Del Zotto’s production and ice time has tailed off and, in the end, his potential production power was traded to Nashville for the much more steady, defense-minded hand of Kevin Klein.
And though Del Zotto was a declining asset, the Rangers made a nice addition to their blueline. Klein is a leader in the dressing room and a responsible player on the ice who pulls in more minutes (and more reliable minutes) than Del Zotto was.
Don’t overlook the contract influence in this trade either. Del Zotto is on an expiring deal, but Klein is locked down through the 2017-18 season with a very manageable $2.9 million cap hit. He’s not on the level of Dan Girardi, but his skill set is similar (defensive shot blocker), which may help push the Rangers to deal Girardi – a pending UFA – by the deadline. After all, does it make sense to put down $5 million-plus on a player like Girardi, or move ahead with Klein’s contract and use the difference on a more productive player? For a team with the 21st-ranked offense in the NHL, I tend to think the latter is the better option.
The Predators, meanwhile, did pretty well in this trade too. If anyone can help Del Zotto get his career back on the track is was during his 37-point rookie season, it’s the Predators. Nashville is a place where defensemen go to flourish. In fact, the Predators rely on their defense to create offense and Del Zotto has the potential to be a great supplement to that game plan.
Looking at this trade, both teams improve. The Rangers get rid of a player who had been a healthy scratch and had no future with the team, in exchange for a reliable defender signed cheap for the foreseeable future. Nashville lets go of a stay-at-home defender, the likes of which they seem to have no trouble developing themselves, in exchange for a young player they’ll be in control of for a while who hypothetically will breathe some fresh air into an offense that lacks production, but gets what it can from the blueline.