Michael Del Zotto can rest easy now that he has Philadelphia to call home. Chances are, however, he won’t. After signing the 24-year-old defenseman to a one-year, $1.3 million deal, the Flyers may have landed the steal of the offseason. Despite the lack of interest shown for the former Ranger top-four defenseman throughout the league, timing is everything for Del Zotto and his new team. A combination that could spell trouble for Philly’s opponents in the upcoming season.
Hungrier Than Ever Before
Michael Del Zotto is no stranger to the criticism that’s been thrown his way. Even if he stayed away from newspapers and commentary, having two teams give up on the former first-round draft pick is enough to receive the message. Adding insult to injury, the one-time 41 point scorer waited patiently as a slew of other defensemen cashed in early and often on the outset of this year’s free agent period.
“I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to prove myself again, and prove everyone who’s doubted me wrong,” said Del Zotto late last month. “I know what I can do and can provide a team. I’ve done it in the past; I’m just trying to get there again.”
The Flyers now stand to benefit from a determined Del Zotto who’s eager to prove everyone wrong. His skating ability, along with his style of rushing into the offensive zone will undoubtedly be welcomed on the Flyers’ man advantage, adding to an already dangerous power play unit that finished the season eighth in the league.
“He has lots of skill, speed,” said Flyers coach, Craig Berube. “He gets up in the play offensively. [He] worked the power play before in New York. He has a lot of skill.”
But then there’s the dip in production, as well as the declining defensive acumen that he possessed earlier in his career as a member of the New York Rangers. In 67 games last season between New York and Nashville, Del Zotto was a ghost, scoring three goals and 13 assists. The lockout-shortened season before that wasn’t much better, as he collected 21 points in 46 games.
“The knock on him has always been his inability to maintain a consistent two-way game. It was why the Predators, who traded for him last January, were reluctant to commit to a long-term contract with him this summer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.” — Tim Panaccio, CSN Philly
Del Zotto said last year was a "humbling season" and he wants to "prove everyone wrong" and get back to his earlier form.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) August 6, 2014
Now as a member of the Flyers, Del Zotto is driven as ever to not only re-gain his old form, but to stick it to the naysayers who gave up on the Ontario native.
“It’s motivating. This summer is the hardest I’ve ever worked,” added Del Zotto. “… I’ve shown I can play both ends of the ice. Obviously the strength of my game is the offensive side, so putting up numbers for me is going to be key. Just trying to find the best fit for me to come in and play my game.”
Can Del Zotto Replace Timonen?
Before the Flyers indefinitely lost Kimmo Timonen to his latest episode of blood clotting, GM Ron Hextall had already expressed interest in acquiring the 24-year-old veteran. Now, with one of their seasoned leaders on the shelf in Timonen, snatching up Del Zotto may have quickened the process that may have been inevitable from the beginning.
“There’s no question, it’s a setback; there’s no other way to explain it,” said Hextall a few hours before signing Del Zotto. “We’ll do what we can to make the team better. We’ve been looking at a few things for the last few weeks and this will probably expedite something.
“You can’t take, not only the player, but the experience, the calm and the poise and the respect Kimmo has in the locker room and not say you didn’t take a step back.”
But for all the positive the Del Zotto signing brings, the blow of losing Timonen will still be felt. And although Del Zotto brings youth and better skating ability to the table, that’s about where it ends in comparison to Timonen.
Even with a 15-year advantage in age, Timonen logged just under 413 more minutes than Del Zotto in 10 extra games. The veteran leader also notched 19 more points than the newly acquired Flyer, with player usage playing a part of that production gap. An advantage in games played and overall minutes can’t be used as an excuse for Del Zotto. After all, Timonen was paired on Philadelphia’s top line, whereas Del Zotto sat buried in Nashville.
In five-on-five action, however, Del Zotto stretched closer, scoring 10 points to Timonen’s 11. But when measuring possession, Timonen extended his advantage once again, showing a plus-6.4 percent Corsi Relative to Del Zotto’s minus-1.9 percent.
Sounds like Del Zotto lost his confidence when his special teams time went away in Nashville.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) August 6, 2014
With Timonen anchoring the top pairing on the blue line, it should come as no surprise that his quality of competition, which is measured by time on ice percentage, surpassed Del Zotto’s. As a result of that, Del Zotto holds the edge in quality of teammates, playing with lesser teammates, which is measured at just under four percent. But despite failing to install a defenseman equal to Timonen’s attributes, the Flyers are still getting an established (young) player who has the capability of returning to the upper half type player he was in his earlier days in New York.
“Even though this is a need-based signing by the Flyers, the fact that they are getting Del Zotto at relatively low risk on a one-year, decently cheap contract, leaves possibility for high value in return. That’s no guarantee considering how Del Zotto fell from grace last season, but his past and the fact that he’s only 24 years old at least makes a bounce-back year seem possible.” — Chris Peters, CBS Sports
More importantly, the Flyers aren’t asking for Del Zotto to replace Kimmo Timonen. Berube is likely to promote Mark Streit from the second pairing to join Braydon Coburn, while Del Zotto appears to be slated to join Luke Schenn on a pairing below. And even though Timonen’s power play numbers stats dwarf Del Zotto’s, having him quarterbacking the second power play unit will relieve the sting caused by Timonen’s absence.
Adding Del Zotto to the mix brings along other benefits for the Flyers as well. In regard to the long-term approach, Del Zotto’s presence obstructs any unnecessary pressure for the younger prospects within the system. Yes, the kids are eager to gain NHL experience. And yes, the fans are anxious to see them live up to their hyped up expectations.
But before prospects such as, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Samuel Morin can live up to such heightened promise, they must first learn the professional game at the AHL level. With Del Zotto in orange and black, and Nick Schultz serving as the seventh defenseman for depth, they’ll have the opportunity to do just that.
“The NHL is a whole different world. It’s not realistic or fair to those players and their development to throw them into the fire of a feverish hockey market like Philadelphia, especially in this situation when they’ll be compared to a guy like Timonen no matter what because he’s the guy they would be replacing.
“Maybe a few years ago under different management the story would have been wouldn’t have been the same. But this regime will stick to its guns and not promote a player to the big club until it’s certain he’s ready.” — Greg Paone, CSN Philly
Another benefit of adding the former first-rounder is the price at which he was bought. Not only is $1.3 million a steal for a player with Del Zotto’s credentials, but the length of the contract puts the Flyers in the driver seat come next offseason.
“The deal that Del Zotto signed with the Flyers is basically a bargain “re-prove yourself” contract not all that different from the one goaltender Steve Mason played on last season prior to signing a multi-year extension at a big raise. It will be up to Del Zotto to get his once-promising career back on track.” — Bill Meltzer, Hockey Buzz
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Del Zotto does, in fact, revitalize his career in Philadelphia. After all, Steve Mason was given the same opportunity under just about the same circumstances and he turned out just fine.
But to present how advantageous of a deal this is for the Flyers, consider what other defensemen signed for back in July. To hammer the point home, the unrestricted free agents most pursued will be excluded.
Andy Greene signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the New Jersey Devils. And although he is coming off of a 32 point season, his career high is 37, which means he’s yet to match Del Zotto’s 41 point career year. This isn’t to say Del Zotto is better than Greene. But for the price tag, it’s at least enough to consider the Del Zotto deal a good one.
Furthermore, Del Zotto’s $1.3 million cap hit is identical to Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard’s. And in comparison to a player similar in Del Zotto’s recent decline, the Edmonton Oilers inked Nikita Nikitin to a two-year, $9 million deal. Keep in mind too, Del Zotto is four years younger than Nikitin.
Time will tell how long Del Zotto’s tenure will be in Philadelphia, or even if it’s a success. But as of now, timing is everything for Del Zotto. And for the Flyers, they were in the right place at the right time no matter how crazy or morbid that may sound.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.