NHL Free Agency: What's a Fair Deal for NY Rangers' Michael Del Zotto?

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NHL Free Agency: What's a Fair Deal for NY Rangers' Michael Del Zotto?
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Michael Del Zotto would be in a strong position to negotiate his contract if there was not a new collective bargaining agreement looming in the NHL.

Del Zotto knows once the lockout hits on September 15th he won’t be able to sign a deal until the new CBA is in place. A new CBA that will likely result in a smaller contract than if he and the Rangers make a deal before that deadline.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners are looking to shake down the players like a gang in a new town demanding protection money from all the shops. The owners' staunch position (including, of course, Rangers owner James Dolan) means the Rangers have most of the leverage in the negotiations with Del Zotto.

This leverage and the September 15th deadline have to be considered when questioning what is a fair deal for Del Zotto.

On one hand, he led all Rangers defensemen with 41 points during the regular season, the 18th-highest point total among all NHL defensemen. On the other hand, his positioning and decision-making in his own zone need significant improvement.

Del Zotto probably wants the Rangers to focus on his production, experience and age. At only 22 and with nearly three full seasons of experience, he must feel like his point production will only climb, and he offers the Rangers something they can’t find cheaply: a young and proven two-way defenseman.

The Rangers obviously want to keep Del Zotto in their long-term plans, or else they wouldn’t have offered him a multi-year contract at around $2.2 to $2.5 million per season, according to Larry Brooks.

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It’s unclear how long “multi-year” is, but I would guess it’s four or less. Del Zotto is certainly looking for at least a four-year deal, and he rates himself much higher than $2.5 million per season given the contracts of comparable players.

Looking at defensemen in their mid-20s that aren’t on rookie contracts and accumulated around 40 points during the 2011-12 campaign, Del Zotto has lots of favorable comps. The 25-year-old Jack Johnson had 38 points during the regular season and will make $4.3 million next year. Keith Yandle, also 25, totaled 43 points last season and will make $5 million in 2012-13.

Drew Doughty got paid because of what he did for the Kings throughout the playoffs, but still, the 22-year-old had 36 points during the regular season and he'll be making $6.5 million next year.

A defenseman's responsibilities on the ice extend well beyond scoring and assisting, and that's why Del Zotto knows he's not quite a $5 million per year player yet, but i believe he's aiming for Kris Letang’s contract. When Letang was 22 (just like Del Zotto now), he was awarded a four-year, $14 million contract, paying him $3.5 million per season.

If not for the pending lockout, I bet Del Zotto would have gotten $3.5 million per season, but there’s no way he’s getting that before September 15th and he doesn't want to risk how low that number will dip once the new CBA is in place.

The Rangers are not paying top dollar to Del Zotto and it's unlikely any other team will make an offer with the looming lockout. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but big contracts go to consistently great players and Del Zotto still has weaknesses to address.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Put in a good word for me, Hank.

Another reason the Rangers don’t want pay big money to Del Zotto is Ryan McDonagh’s rookie contract expires after next season and the Rangers definitely don’t want to have to scale McDonagh’s new contract according to a bloated Del Zotto contract.

After successfully acquiring Rick Nash at a bargain price while also shedding payroll, Glen Sather must feel like a better negotiator than Jack Donaghy. Sather will not pay Del Zotto $3 million or more, and as September 15th approaches, Sather gains more leverage.

Del Zotto is running out of time and options and he would be wise to push for a four-year, $11 million deal. Sather may not want to sign Del Zotto for four years, but I think both parties could agree to a deal that pays Del Zotto about $2.7 million per season.

Marc Staal has a five-year, $20 million deal. Dan Girardi got four years, $13.3 million. Del Zotto believes he's worth a deal in this range, given what he contributed during last season. But he needs to realize that there are too many forces working against him and maximize his offer while he can.

Four years, $11 million. Del Zotto may not like it, but given the facts, it's fair.

Del Zotto and the Rangers will get a deal done before September 15th, and the size of it will signify what all the NHL owners are pushing for during this current labor dispute—more money for them and less money for the players sounds pretty fair.

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