Future Free Agents: Michael Del Zotto

Cam Lewis
March 21 2017 07:00AM

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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. 

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Nation Network utility infielder. Twitter: @cooom, Email: cameron@oilersnation.com
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