Thus far in this offseason, the Rangers’ camp has been surrounded by rumors of potential trades and free agent signings. Involved in said rumors have been names such as Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin, but it seems none has sparked more debate among Ranger fans than that of Michael Del Zotto.
The 22-year-old blueliner is coming off an excellent regular season (his 3rd in the NHL) and less-than-stellar playoff run. While his regular season stats – 10 goals, 31 assists, 36 PIM and a +20 rating in 77 games – are impressive, less so is the way Del Zotto seemed to come apart at the seams in the postseason, leaving Anton Stralman to pick up the defensive slack.
Del Zotto’s proponents generally cite his offensive skills as the main reason he should stay in Ranger blue. And he does indeed have a strong offensive game. However, it should also be remembered that Del Zotto’s first responsibility on the ice is defense, and it is in this area that he seems to be lacking. He often seems to panic in his own zone and tries to do too much, leaving attackers open. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils, for example, his mistakes on several occasions led directly to the puck ending up behind Henrik Lundqvist. And while it’s true that he is young, he at times appears to lack basic hockey sense in addition to maturity. Compare that to someone like Stepan, who is only a week older than Del Zotto yet seems to be far beyond his teammate in both areas.
Another troubling area for some fans as concerns Del Zotto is how he can come across on Twitter. Should a professional athlete be tweeting that he’s “bored” in the offseason? Surely he can find something to do, whether it’s working on his defensive game or visiting sick children in a hospital, no? Two summers ago after a lackluster season, Del Zotto’s teammate Brian Boyle spent his summer working on his skating and arrived at training camp showing notable improvement in that area. Boyle went on to score 21 goals that season, an achievement due in large part to the commitment he made in the offseason.
The jury is still out on Del Zotto, and fans continue to be divided on whether Glen Sather should sign him to a long-term contract or trade him, perhaps for another defenseman. It has been widely reported that Phoenix GM Don Maloney would be willing to trade star defenseman Keith Yandle in a bid to dump salary; do we rely on Del Zotto’s “potential” and keep him on the team in hopes that his defensive game and maturity level will improve, or make a trade that would improve the team in the present?
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