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NHL Rumors: Will the New York Rangers Keep RFA Michael Del Zotto?

The New York Rangers continue to work on signing Michael Del Zotto, but the restricted free agent is still without a legitimate contract after being tendered a qualifying offer over a month ago.  Earlier this month, both sides were optimistic that a deal would get done.  With the Rick Nash dramatics finally over, Michael Del Zotto could be the next big priority for the Rangers – and he’s earned it after recovering from his sophomore struggles to lead Rangers defensemen with 41 points.  The Bergen Record’s Andrew Gross expects he’ll be signed for 1.75 million dollars for three years, but he deserves much more.

Though it is particularly uncommon for restricted free agents to receive offer sheets, Michael Del Zotto may be an ideal candidate for a deal from someone other than the New York Rangers.  The value of defensemen on the open market appears to be at an all-time high.  Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were offered monster deals this offseason.  After the Philadelphia Flyers missed out on both Weber and Suter, Michael Del Zotto could be a budget-friendly fit.  If the Rangers continue to stall negotiations, the rest of the hockey world could grow interested.

Michael Del Zotto appears to want to stay with the New York Rangers, but the numbers being floated as “fair deals” seem to drastically undervalue the 22 year old.  Del Zotto’s 41 points last season were eight points shy of Shea Weber’s 49, with Michael Del Zotto actually posting one more assist on the offensively-challenged Rangers.  While offense obviously isn’t everything for a defenseman, Del Zotto’s +20 differential proves his value on both ends of the ice.  He’s no Shea Weber, but he’s certainly worth more than 1.75 million as Andrew Gross optimistically suggested in the Bergen Record.  If the New York Rangers sign Del Zotto for less than 2.75 million, it’s a steal.

With that said, if someone were to stray from the unwritten RFA rules of etiquette in the modern NHL, Michael Del Zotto is an ideal candidate to reach for.  There are far worse players to sign to moderately expensive deals – see the New Jersey Devils’ ten mediocre defensemen for a perfect example.  The market price for defense is extremely high this offseason, suggesting this is no time to be cheap with a promising young defenseman like Michael Del Zotto.

P.K. Subban is also available as a restricted free agent, but the 23-year-old will likely carry a tremendous price.  Any reasonable contract offer will be matched by the Montreal Canadiens.  Michael Del Zotto, comparatively, is the last reasonably-priced young defenseman “available” as a restricted free agent.  Would the New York Rangers pay Del Zotto, say, four million dollars per year?

Maybe the New York Rangers are a bit gun shy after the disappointing season former-Ranger Brandon Dubinsky had last year. After all, Del Zotto struggled mightily two seasons ago.  However, after posting solid numbers again as part of the strong defensive corps in front of Henrik Lundqvist, Michael Del Zotto deserves a decent contract.   A three-year deal worth a total of around nine million dollars sounds appropriate – before someone offers Michael Del Zotto something less reasonable and more expensive.  A deal is likely imminent, and it will be interesting to see what Del Zotto is willing to accept in order to stay with the Blueshirts.  The New York Rangers have plenty of cap space and it’s hard to imagine Del Zotto playing anywhere else – or even receiving an offer to.