The NHL's 2013 season should begin sometime during the next two weeks, and once the tentative CBA agreement reached early Sunday morning (according to NHL.com) is ratified and set in stone, the New York Rangers will need to sign Michael Del Zotto.
The 2008 first-round pick of the Rangers had an impressive 41-point rebound campaign in 2011-12 as he emerged as one of the NHL's top offensive defenders.
His 41-point campaign put him ahead of defenders like Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brent Burns for total points scored during the 2011-12. Although Del Zotto is still developing as a defender, he has one of the best outlet passes in the league, and his vision is top notch for a youngster.
He is an asset to the Rangers because he has the ability to hit speedy forwards like Marian Gaborik, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider with crisp cross-ice passes that lead to prime scoring chances.
After the Blueshirts failed to sign Del Zotto before the lockout, the 22-year-old defender went overseas to play for the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers of the Swiss National League A.
Now that the 2013 season is starting to take shape, the Rangers will make a push to lock up the young defender for a few years, because of his potential and value to the team. One of the caveats of the new CBA would allow teams to spend $70.2 million this year, with a drop to $64.3 million in 2013-14.
Cap Geek currently has the Rangers' cap spending at $59,258,334 for this season, without factoring in salaries from the AHL like Wade Redden's.
With $10,941,666 available to spend, the Rangers will look to sign Del Zotto to a fair contract, but one that doesn't hinder re-signing key RFA's like Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin after the season ends.
As one of the league's top young defenders, Del Zotto deserves to be paid, but how much will he make?
Cap Geek projects the Rangers to have $12,458,333 in cap space with 16 players signed through 2013-14, and that number will decrease once Del Zotto is signed. Compliance buyouts will ultimately help the team clear more space, so the Rangers shouldn't be too tight against the cap.
Now 22, Del Zotto will become an unrestricted free agent at age 26 during the summer of 2016 after his seventh season in the NHL.
A three-year deal somewhere in the ballpark of $9.0 million likely would be fair for Del Zotto, because it would give him a raise and the availability for a raise before he becomes a UFA.
The Rangers will likely aim for a number in that vicinity give or take a few hundred thousand, because they want to make sure that the MDZ of 2011-12 shows up, and not the defenseman that ended up in the minors back in 2010-11.
Ultimately, as Glen Sather said back in September to Andrew Gross,
How much should Del Zotto make per season?
He’ll come to his senses, Sather said of the 22-year-old Del Zotto, who completed his three-year, $2.625 million entry-level contract and did not have arbitration rights this off-season. Our offer is what it is. You can’t negotiate against yourself.
Del Zotto is a young talent, and if he lives up to the 50-point potential he should be capable of as he matures as a defender, signing him to a deal around $3.0 million a season will be well worth it.
It isn't easy to pluck offensive defenseman through the draft or through trades, so the Rangers will obviously take care with signing Del Zotto. If you thought the Rangers' power play was bad with Del Zotto, it is hard to imagine how it would look without Del Zotto.
It is safe to say that Sather has a few proposals ready to present the young defender with, but it will be interesting to see what MDZ's next contract looks like.