Full disclosure, I am a Michael Del Zotto fan. I played against him a bunch growing up in the 1990s in the Greater Toronto Area, and I have been following his career ever since. My dad always told me that he heard Del Zotto came home from games when we were 11-year-olds, rode his stationary bike, and then did pull-ups and push-ups. My father likes to reiterate that I could have made the NHL if I had that same work ethic. I guess we’ll never know.
Anyways, it is certainly bizarre that the Ottawa Senators signed Del Zotto to a two-year deal worth four million dollars, and after 10 games, in which he had six points, they had seen enough. They proceeded to throw him on waivers and send him to the American Hockey League (AHL) to play for the Bellville Senators. Ottawa is rebuilding and doesn’t exactly have the most impressive defensive core right now. Oddly, they refuse to find a place on their roster for a 31-year-old veteran of 720 NHL games. Clearly, there has been some disconnect between the player, management, and head coach DJ Smith. It’s only right that general manager Pierre Dorion helps find a new home for him in the NHL, where he belongs.
Del Zotto – The Player
After being drafted 20th overall by the New York Rangers during the 2008 draft, Del Zotto has enjoyed a lengthy career filled with ups and downs. He has played on 25% of the teams in the NHL – the Rangers, Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Senators.
During that span, he’s played 13 seasons, recorded 255 points, and won a Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019. While he may not have had the strongest reputation early in his career, he has blossomed into a mature and well-spoken player. Last season he played a big role on the Blue Jackets, and he had lots of options going into unrestricted free agency.
Related: The Importance of Michael Del Zotto
Signing With the Senators
Several teams were interested in signing Del Zotto during the 2021 offseason. The Senators sold him on coming to Ottawa, where he could be a role model to his young teammates and battle for a spot in the top four as well as some powerplay time. He was their biggest offseason unrestricted free agent signing during the summer, and for whatever reason, things did not materialize the way everyone hoped. In a peculiar move, he was healthy scratched for the first game of the season and never really found a place in the lineup before being sent to the AHL.
Now, even when there are injuries on defense and despite the team having significant cap space, Del Zotto remains buried in the minors, and the writing is on the wall. Clearly, there is no place for him on the Senators.
There is a business side to the NHL that we all must appreciate. The Senators don’t want to eat any more salary than they need to and are currently weighing their options. They can bury him in Belleville for the next two seasons, and it would have minimal impact on their salary cap moving forward. That would unquestionably be the easiest thing for the Senators to do. Their other option would be to buy him out at the end of the season and face a salary cap penalty of $500,000 next season and $750,000 during the 2023-24 season. The Senators could also do that with relative ease given their salary cap situation. The last option is the one that Del Zotto would want most, trade him to another team so he can get back to playing in the NHL.
The ideal trade partner would be a team with a cast-off of their own that the Senators might be interested in taking a chance on. Given what we know about the salary cap hit the Senators will take if they go the buyout route, they certainly should be willing to retain $500,000 if they can find a trade partner. If I had to predict, there is likely still a place for him back in Columbus, but there must be other teams that could use some depth on the back end. His 19 points in 17 games with Belleville are extremely impressive for a defenseman and a sign that he is still a capable and talented NHL-caliber hockey player. It feels like the Senators didn’t give him a fair chance, and the honorable thing for Dorion to do for the player is to find a suitable trade.