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Photo Credit: © Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Future Free Agents: Michael Del Zotto

Michael Del Zotto? In New York, he was known as DelZaster. After last season, his second year in Philadelphia, it seemed he had resurrected his career and was going to be a key piece of the Flyers blue line moving forward.

But thanks to a poor season that began with a long term injured reserve stint, the DelZaster label is back. And the timing couldn’t be less fortunate, as Del Zotto is set to his the open market this summer.

Who is he?

It feels like Del Zotto has been around forever, but he doesn’t turn 27 years old until June. He was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft by the New York Rangers, and played only one year in junior before forcing his way on to a Rangers squad with a putrid defence. And I mean putrid, like, so bad that Matt Gilroy and a 32-year-old already-bought-out Wade Redden were handed significant minutes.

Anyways, Del Zotto had a very strong rookie season playing in a sheltered role with heavy offensive zone and power play minutes, finishing fifth on the team in scoring with 37 points. The next season, though, Del Zotto struggled in an increased role, resulting in him splitting time between the NHL and AHL. In 2014, Del Zotto was sent to the Nashville Predators in a one-for-one swap for Kevin Klein. He wasn’t tendered a contract at the end of the season, and signed a one-year ‘show me’ contract with the Flyers.

That’s where he hit his stride — or so it seemed. The 2014-15 season was probably the best of Del Zotto’s career, as he finished with 32 points and a 2.3 RelCF% in season limited to 64 games due to injury. The following season saw the rise of Shayne Gostisbhere on the Flyers blue line, and, as a result, a decline in offensive minutes for Del Zotto, and a major decrease in production.

Now, here we are. Del Zotto has 14 points through 42 games, and was frequently in rumours leading up to the trade deadline, but stuck with the team. Though his production and on-ice goal figures have dropped the past couple of seasons from where he was at in his first year in Philly, Del Zotto has consistently put up decent underlying Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

But still, his frequent gaffes and poor plays in the defensive zone have resulted in Flyers fans embracing the DelZaster nickname. 

Don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s from plays like, uh, this:

How much is he going to cost?

After his resurgent 2014-15 season in Philadelphia, the Flyers inked Del Zotto to a two-year bridge deal worth $3.85 million annually. And that’s probably about what he’ll be looking for on his next deal this summer.

Somewhere between $3.5 and $4 million seems to be the going rate for free agent-aged, second-pairing defencemen who don’t put up crazy numbers but have some offensive upside and can log around 18 minutes a night effectively. We’re talking about the Braydon Coburns, Justin Brauns, and Connor Murphys of the world here.

Plus, if I’m an NHL general manager, though Del Zotto has upside and a track record of putting up very solid offensive numbers when given the opportunity to do so, he hasn’t proved that he can do it consistently. He’s never put together back-to-back strong seasons, and, as previously noted, he’s struggled to stay healthy for an entire season, meaning he probably isn’t the best candidate for long-term contract.

Can the Flyers afford it?

They can, sure. But do they want to? A year ago today, I would have said yes. But now? Probably not.

I mean, sure, if they can get him on a one- or two-year deal with a reasonable cap hit, but there’s likely going to be a team out there badly in need of somebody who can quarterback a power play that’ll gladly top that offer, so that scenario isn’t likely.

As I mentioned earlier, the Flyers have Shayne Gostisbhere, a defenceman who can drive play and produce at a high level who maaaaaaaybe isn’t the best at the defensive aspect of the game, logging the team’s primary offensive and power play minutes. They also have Ivan Provorov who’s looked excellent in his rookie season, and prospects Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Sam Morin who could work their way onto the team next season. Put that all together, and it seems the Flyers are going to want a more steady, reliable guy in that middle-pairing veteran role than Del Zotto.

If he hits the open market…

If you swing and miss on Kevin Shattenkirk this summer in pursuit of an offence driving defenceman, Michael Del Zotto is your fallback net.

So all of those teams who need a puck moving defenceman — Boston, New Jersey, Arizona, Buffalo, Dallas, and so on — and have been said to have had interested in acquiring Shattenkirk at some time, will likely be in on Del Zotto, giving him a pretty solid market to earn a decent paycheque. I don’t think anybody will, or should, go too crazy with Del Zotto here, or anything, but despite his gaffes and DelZaster nickname, is still a solid player that could be very effective in offensive situations next to a reliable partner.

Because after Shattenkirk AND Del Zotto, the cupboard is pretty bare. You have Cody Franson, uhhhhh, John-Michel Liles? And, uhm, old guys like Andrei Markov, Dennis Wideman, or Mark Streit? Unless you want to try Dmitry Kulikov or Kris Russell in an offensive role? It looks good for Del Zotto, that’s for sure.

Conclusion

Despite his somewhat disappointing season, Del Zotto is still an interesting talent at 27 years old, and behind Kevin Shattenkirk, is easily the best option for a team looking for a guy who can drive and produce offence from the blue line. That said, based on his lack of consistency, it’s hard to imagine a team shelling out much dollars or term to Del Zotto even though the offensive-defenceman-starved market is favourable to him.

  • Oil9744

    I don’t know why you would even consider this, first of all he’s a lefty and The Oilers are set on the left side, Klefbomb, Sekera, and Nurse are all better then Del Zotto, Oilers should try to get another good right handed defencemen like Shattenkirk in the off season or make a trade for Trouba, definetly a pass on Del Zotto

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Do the Oilers have an organizational need for another $4M ‘not-as-good-or-consistant-as-you-want-him-to-be’ defenceman? While he sounds like a player that MacTavish and Lowe would be a in for I’m pretty sure we can take a pass on the DelZaster.

    I’d save the change and use it to resign Russell.

  • Been there

    Unless we are getting a Justin Faulk or Tyson Barrie type I say leave things alone. Klefbom, Larrson and Nurse are keepers, Sekera is signed with a nmc, and Benning looks great for the future. We have prospects playing well. Russel and Gryba are still good 6-7 men for the next year or two at what should be reasonable costs if they decide to stay. I would concentrate on a replacement one or two of Ebs, RNH and Desharnais

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Totally agree with the no thanks crew. We need to add players that will actually help this team and MDZ won’t. But yeah a MacT/KBlow type of signing if there ever was one!

  • West

    Not on topic. Calgary fLames issue statement on Tkachuk: We are disappointed that the the league has suspended another one of our dirty players for a perfectly legal elbow to the head of Drew Doughty. We are going to act like we think the league is within its rights to suspend him and we are going to act like the officials have it out for us until we can have a meeting with the league to complain and threaten them into calling fewer penalties on us and even turn a blind eye to some really blatant dirty stuff. Brad “Brian Burke is telling me what to do and say” Treliving.

    • Derian Hatcher

      Payback is going to be a nasty witch for this young lad when it comes…It was interesting to watch the kings do absolutly nothing after he elbowed their best player…I have seen this lack of response somewhere before from teams but just can’t mac out where…just can’t eak out an answer for the hall of me. Really hard to belov that a team would let one of it’s best players take a shot like that and do nothing.

  • Mitch92

    I have no desire to add a Michael Del Zotto at an inflated price due to name recognition with little substance to back it up. I am sure that when they wade through the rubble that is left after the expansion draft that the Oilers will be able to find some desirable pieces they are looking for to fill holes or upgrade various positions. Edmonton is becoming a destination of choice for the astute young up and comers in this league. We don’t need to over pay for veterans with little upside or on the downside of their careers.

  • russ99a

    No thanks, if we’re going to change our defensemen, the bare requirement is that they won’t decrease what we can do now defensively. If we can find that (or better) and with that player comes more offense, then that’s someone we should target.