When 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto broke into the NHL as the New York Rangers' youngest defenseman to ever open a season in 2009, many had hoped that he would be the one to fill the void left by Brian Leetch's departure in 2004.
He hasn't. Yet.
With Glen Sather currently playing hardball with Del Zotto regarding his first NHL contract beyond his entry-level deal, it's tough to tell if Slats still believes DZ is the guy to fill that hole in the lineup. And let's get one thing straight—it most certainly is a gaping hole.
The Rangers' defense has gotten one thing down: playing good defense. Well, that's just fantastic, but in hockey, you also have to put the puck in the other team's net. Obviously, the Rangers' defensive corps missed the memo.
All joking aside, the reason this team doesn't receive a strong offensive contribution from their defense is because they lack the skill. That being said, there is one exception, and that's Del Zotto.
He possesses top-notch vision and sublime passing skills to go along with it. He also has a solid slapper and excellent hockey sense. These attributes helped him amass 41 points in 77 games last season, nine more than any other defenseman on the team.
The word is that Sather has offered Del Zotto a yearly salary of $2.5 million, and he's welcome to either take it or leave it. Kind of reminds you of our ongoing CBA affairs, doesn't it?
So why exactly are we playing hardball with this kid? He may not be there yet, but he's got all the tools to become a top offensive defenseman in the NHL. I'm not sure Sather is really in a position to nickel and dime Del Zotto, then wait for him to "come to his senses," given the current state of his offensively anemic defense.
Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh are really great hockey players, but they don't have anywhere near the offensive ability that Del Zotto possesses. And Girardi, Sauer and Bickel are all defense-first guys; truthfully, they're lucky if they pot five goals a year.
But I know what a lot of you guys are thinking. Sather has a backup plan, which just so happens to be potential Hall of Famer Matt Gilroy.
Slats signed Gilroy to a minor league deal earlier this month, which appears to be a move he thinks will put pressure on Del Zotto to accept the deal he has presented him. I'm here to tell you that isn't scaring anyone, Mr. Sather. The only job at Madison Square Garden Matt Gilroy is qualified to take is the one at the concession stand. Just get Del Zotto signed.
This team can't afford to lose a 22-year-old defenseman oozing with offensive talent, especially after last season's offensive woes. In this day and age, players like Del Zotto don't grow on trees, and if Sather continues to mishandle the situation, I'm sure many of the other 29 general managers in the league would love to make things even more difficult for him by offering this talented restricted free agent an offer sheet.