Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why someone - anyone - should sign Michael Del Zotto to an offer sheet

As we wait for the NHLPA to announce ratification of the Memorandum of Understanding, news is coming out of New York that the Rangers' RFA Michael Del Zotto may not get signed before training camp.

Reportedly, the two sides are talking about a 2-year deal and are about half a million dollars apart. The Rangers are looking to pay about $2.4m or maybe less; Del Zotto is apparently asking for as much as $3m.

Last season, Del Zotto was a valuable powerplay fixture, putting up 41 points in 77 games, and was was third on the team in ice time (behind Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh). This isn't a guy the Rangers should be nickel-and-diming with; he's an important part of the team and a valuable player. What's more, he's just 22 years old.

It seems like this would be a prime chance for any number of NHL teams (Detroit? Toronto? the Kings?) to add a top-four defenceman at a reasonable price. Del Zotto might jump at an offer sheet like the one Niklas Hjalmarsson signed in 2010 (4 years, $14m) as he's clearly worth more than $2.5 million a year.

We are, of course, yet to see any finalized CBA details but under the previous deal, such an offer (if signed) would cost a first-, second- and third-round pick. Significant, yes, but if you're a playoff team (and we can assume Detroit certainly is), that's a late first-rounder. If you wanted to trade for Del Zotto, I doubt you could get him for those three picks. It would be a sensible move to make.

Even if the Rangers match the offer sheet, you can at least screw up the budget of a powerhouse rival. While that has less value to Detroit or LA, the Leafs might be happy to knock the Rangers down a notch. Recall the aftermath of the Hjalmarsson offer sheet: the Blackhawks couldn't fix their cap situation, so had to say goodbye to Antti Niemi and had to go with an unproven Corey Crawford, who has had mixed results since.

The team that might be most interested in screwing the Rangers, actually, might be the Penguins. The Pens have abundant cap space and could use another defender (though they would probably prefer more of a shutdown guy), as their third pairing going into camp looks to be Ben Lovejoy and Derek Engelland. Their depth beyond that isn't substantial if there's an injury.

GMs may be gun-shy about dropping an offer sheet at this stage of the season, but this is one of those situations where it may be fully warranted. The Rangers, meanwhile, would do well to stop dithering around and meet Del Zotto's demands before it's too late.

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