Del Zotto’s Last Stand in New York?

Michael Del Zotto (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Michael Del Zotto (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Michael Del Zotto was once the future of the Rangers’ blueline.  Now, it’s unclear how much more of a future he has with the team at all.

The 23-year-old blueliner has tons of offensive potential. Translating that into on-ice performance has been his greatest challenge.  He struggled with it under Tortorella, and he’s struggling under the club’s new head coach.

“I have been told [Del Zotto] is a much better player,” Alain Vigneault told the media. “I have not seen that on a consistent enough basis.”

The Rangers’ top guys – McDonagh, Staal, and Girardi – are clear-cut.  Anton Stralman has turned into a solid-if-unspectacular second-pair guy. While Stralman’s efforts are decent, nobody expects much more from him.  He’s a stopgap, a player who should be outplayed by the guys below him on the depth chart — especially by Michael Del Zotto.  That’s not happening.

“None of [Del Zotto, John Moore, or Justin Falk] have proven that they can be in those top two pairs,” Vigneault said. “The one that has proven it that he’s the closest is John Moore. John had maybe a little patch of more difficulties the last few games there but he’s going to be back in the lineup tonight and a very young player, tremendous amount of upside in our minds.

Both Michael and Falker, it depends more on the team, if you think you need a little more bit or if you think you need a little more puck movement. If anybody would show us that they deserve to play ahead of, whether it be Dan or McDonagh or Stralman or Staal, I’d give them the ice time but nobody’s really come up and played better than those guys.”

Hear that, Del Zotto?  Consider that an arrow fired your way.

Del Zotto led all Rangers defensemen in scoring in three of the past four seasons. He finished the shortened 2012-13 season with three goals and 21 points in 46 games, averaging 23:07 in ice time, third highest on the club.  The previous year, he posted career highs in goals (10), assists (31) and points (41), good enough for 18th in the league among all defensemen.

This season, though, Del Zotto’s offense is missing.  As a result, so is his ice time.

He’s averaging just 17:53 per game – a career low.  He’s been a healthy scratch for five games this season.  His last appearance, on December 5 in a 3-1 win over the Sabres, saw him on the ice for just 12:58, his lowest amount of regular season playing time since February 2011. He was held scoreless.

How does he feel about watching from the pressbox?   “Not happy.  The game’s all about confidence, and any time your minutes are going down, it’s tough to really get that confidence where you want it to be,” said Del Zotto.

Del Zotto’s only made his way on to the scoresheet once in his past seven games.  He netted a power play goal – his first since April of 2012 – in a blowout victory over the Canucks.  Of course, this came as trade rumors swirled, blowing strongest in the direction of the Ottawa Senators and, according to Arthur Staple, the New York Islanders. Nothing has come of them, at least not yet.

The power play was once Del Zotto’s specialty.  At one point, he was the lead candidate to quarterback the club’s efforts with the man advantage.  That, too, is long gone.  Not that he doesn’t have the opportunity. Del Zotto is averaging 2:26 of power play time per game, most among Rangers defensemen.  In that time, he’s posted just two points.

In comparison, Ryan McDonagh, currently the Rangers’ highest-scoring defenseman, has four power play points while averaging 2:24 per game.  John Moore, in just 1:17 of power play time per game, has matched Del Zotto in scoring with the man advantage.

Competition on the Blueline

Not only does Del Zotto have to battle to crack the top four, he’s barely holding on to his #5 spot.

John Moore

Where Michael Del Zotto is a top-four defenseman who’s fallen out of favor, John Moore is a player still fighting his way up.  He’s shown potential since coming to New York. Like Del Zotto, Moore has struggled with consistency. So far this season, though, he’s scored as much in less ice time, averaging just 15:39 per game.

The expectations are different for Moore. Most important is that he’s shown more consistency under Vigneault.

“I think John is a real smooth skater. For me he’s got – like Michael, two skilled players. I just feel right now that John has shown that he’s a little bit better skater, can jump up in the play, can beat the forecheck. He’s shown me he can beat the forecheck on a more consistent basis than Michael has shown me so far.” – Alain Vigneault told the Daily News

It sure sounds like the coach has more confidence in Moore as Del Zotto slips further down the depth chart.

Justin Falk

Nobody’s expecting Falk to be a top-four guy. He was brought in for blueline depth. The biggest surprise is that he’s become interchangeable with Del Zotto and that he’s certainly cutting into his ice time.

“[Whether to play] Michael and Falker, it depends more on the [opponent],” Vigneault said. “If you think you need a little more bite [it’s Falk] or you think you need a little more puck movement [it’s Del Zotto].”

No offense to Falk, but that comment is an indication of just how far Michael Del Zotto has fallen in New York.  Remember, this is a defenseman who’s led the Rangers’ blueline in scoring three times.

Michael Del Zotto Rangers

(Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

Opportunity Lost

Making it worse for Del Zotto is the fact that Marc Staal has struggled as of late. There’s an opportunity to pick up more minutes, but based on his play, Del Zotto isn’t deserving of any additional ice time.  If anyone, Moore will be getting those minutes.

Someone needs to step up. If that doesn’t happen, it’s likely that someone – Del Zotto – will step out.

With the Rangers kicking off nine-straight games at home, will this be Del Zotto’s last stand at MSG?  Is this Michael Del Zotto’s Little Big Horn?  Now would be the time for him to make a stand…  assuming, that is, he gets a chance on the ice to do it.

 

Josh Smith
Josh is a life-long hockey fan. He grew up as a fan of the New York Rangers, but thanks to their general mismanagement and years of mediocrity, developed a great appreciation for every team across the league. He’s been writing about hockey on various sites since 1995. In addition to his work at The Hockey Writers, he also keeps tabs on the referees over at ScoutingTheRefs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joshsmith29 or reach him via email at joshuasmithTHW-at-gmail.com.
Josh Smith
RT @CubedLink: Well, damn. Forget Earth. All of time and space is screwed. #DoctorWho has the Ebola virus. And went bowling! http://t.co/aY… - 1 day ago

2 Comments

  1. this article is laughable. stralman a stop gap lol you dont expect any more from him lol. stralman is head and shoulders better then everyone of the bottom pair d men. he has more offensive upside then delzotto and knows how to play in his end. i expect alot more from stralman offensively. and calling him a stop gap is laughable hes no stop gap hes going to be re signed and if hes not. then they feel john moore is ready to take over or stralman demands to much money. and many expect free agency to come around and stralman get alot of interest from other teams for a solid top 4 defender. i love it life long hockey fan huh if thats your bio then i must laugh and say you never played. mismanagment from ny last i checked they missed the playoffs once in the last 8 seasons. to me thats not mismanagment thats excellent managment. i guess when a gm has trouble finiding the one other player that can put this team over you call it missmanagment leaving out that not alot of players can perform in the spotlight of ny sports. you media guys are retarded none of you ever played. and none of you know what your watching because if you did you wouldnt be calling stralman a stop gap especially when hes one of the teams best come post seaosn.

    • Thanks for your feedback. Yes, this season Stralman has been better than the bottom three, which is why he’s slotted as a top-4. Should he be top 4? Probably not. I like the guy, and I think he’s played well in New York. He’s never lived up to his offensive potential in the NHL, and at age 27, is unlikely to. He posted career scoring highs back in 2010, and those were only 6 goals and 28 assists. He’s never played a full season. He had a great run in the playoffs 2 years ago, but did nothing last postseason (0 points in 10 games). Like I said, I like the guy, and he’s filling in admirably as a top 4, which is over his head. The club fully expected MDZ to be one of their Top 4, and with good reason.

      As far as Rangers mismanagement, Sather’s had his missteps but you’d have to go back a bit further than that to find real mismanagement of the club. There were some terrible moves made in the mid 90s. Just the fact that they went out and overpaid Bobby Holik to be a top line center was a disaster.

      Thanks for your comments. I agree that Stralman will get interest, it’s just a matter of his role and how much they want to pay. I’m hoping he satys in NY as a solid 5/6 guy who can step up in a pinch, but not a guy who should be counted on in your Top 4.

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