Usually by this time in July, there is still a bit of action trickling in regarding the NHL free agent market, but that has changed in 2014. With the new rule that allows pending UFA’s to talk with NHL teams in the six days prior to the beginning of the free agent frenzy, this summer has seen the majority of free agents ink new contracts on July 1st and the couple of days that follow. Nearly every major UFA has found a new home, but one intriguing name still remains, 24-year old defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Even veterans who may have been a teams last-ditch resort have been able to score a new contract, including Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy signing in Nashville, John Scott landing in San Jose, and Lee ‘Flash in the Pan’ Stempniak joining the Rangers, yet Del Zotto still hasn’t been able to find a new home.
It’s been a rough year for the young man from Stouffville, ONT. Del Zotto went from having a decent season in 2013 to becoming the unofficial whipping boy in New York, receiving frowns from both the fanbase and head coach Alain Vigneault. He had his minutes cut down from 21 MPG to 17 this season, and was gradually taken off the Rangers PP, while also spending large chunks of time in the press box as a healthy scratch before finally being traded to Nashville for Kevin Klein. In the 25 games Del Zotto suited up for the Preds, he never really seemed to fit in with the club, which prompted Nashville GM David Polie to not give a qualifying offer to Del Zotto, making him a UFA. Nearly a month into the free agency period now, and Del Zotto still has not found a new team to play for, plus, I have not heard any rumblings of any teams who have shown any interest in him at all.
What has gone wrong for Del Zotto then? How has someone with so much potential had their stock plummet to an all-time low? Looking at his game, offensively, he’s quite gifted. When he has the puck in the opponents zone, he is dangerous, and he has shown that he has the capabilities to be a top-pairing PP type of player. He did it in junior, scoring a combined 160 PTS in 2007-08/2008-09, and when given the chance to do so at the NHL level, he has shown moments of brilliance as well offensively, such as 2013 when he led the Rangers defense in PTS with 21 and PPP with 8.
While there is no denying the fact that he is talented with the puck, where Del Zotto’s game is hurting is with his defensive play. When I asked Rangers fans, who were happy with the fact Del Zotto was traded, why they disliked him so much, the consensus was that he was a defensive liability, whether that be from poor turnovers or lack of physicality. These comments surprised me a little, because basing strictly off of observations, I thought Del Zotto had improved in both of those categories since coming into the league. He put up a combined -25 rating in his first year and a half in New York, but improved going +26 in the next two seasons combined. Last year was a step in the wrong direction, a combined -9 split between New York and Nashville, not to mention he posted his worst offensive totals in a full NHL season.
While he took a step backward last year, Del Zotto is still young with potential to regroup and progress. He says he wants to prove those wrong who doubt his abilities. Only problem is, who is going to give him that chance? As I said before, I have heard of no teams even being rumoured to be interested. I recall speaking to Michael in the months prior to the 2008 draft, and he told me he would like to play somewhere warm like Florida or Tampa Bay. It’s unlikely he would wind up with either of those two, same can be said for other sunny areas such as Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose, but maybe a team such as Arizona, Colorado, or Dallas could see use for Del Zotto as a depth defenseman with a little scoring touch. Not only would he be salary cap friendly, as his stock is at an all-time low, but giving him the chance to play could instill a renewed confidence to his game. If that turns out to be the case, and he can get his game back on track, then whatever team does eventually sign Del Zotto could end up with a steal of signing.
Photo Credits to bleacherreport.com