New York Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto has been a fixture in trade rumours for months now and those whispers finally culminated in a deal on Wednesday afternoon.
Naturally, the first question fans of both teams have is "Who won the trade?"
The first thing to note is that this is a real hockey trade. CapGeek.com has Kevin Klein at a $2.9 million cap hit this season and for four years to come while Del Zotto is a pending restricted free agent earning $2.55 million.
Nashville sheds the remainder of a $100,000 difference in real dollars, but this is as close to a null-dollars trade as there is in the NHL today.
In Klein, the New York Rangers add a lot of things that Del Zotto lacked. Klein is bigger, older, more experienced and gives head coach Alain Vigneault the option to deploy exclusively right-shooting defencemen (Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman are the others) on the starboard side of his blue line.
Klein also adds a physical edge to the blue line that Del Zotto lacks.
The ex-Predator has been leaned on heavily in defensive situations and currently ranks fourth among Nashville rearguards in ice time. Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com indicates that the team’s results with him on the ice haven’t been great, as his teammates have better on-ice shot totals.
That may be a factor of Klein playing more defensive zone minutes than the average Nashville defenceman or it may reflect weaknesses in his game.
The player New York sent to Nashville is a very different sort of defenceman. Del Zotto might have made a decent partner for Klein because his skill set appears complementary. Where Klein is a stay-at-home guy with some ability to play the puck, Del Zotto is an offensive force still working to develop his defensive game.
He’s also a left-shooting rearguard, which makes him a good fit for a Predators team that still has three right-shooting regulars (Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis).
Nashville has eschewed the relative safety of Klein for a riskier player in Del Zotto in the hopes that he can return to the level of play he demonstrated under former Rangers head coach John Tortorella. As Del Zotto is only 23 years of age and has a history of better performances, it’s a reasonable gamble.
It also fits with another move the Predators made recently when they dealt forward Matt Hendricks to Edmonton. Like Klein, Hendricks was a depth piece—a bottom-six forward as opposed to a No. 4/5 defenceman—and is signed to a long-term deal at non-trivial dollars.
The important thing to note with both players is age. Klein is 29 years old and Hendricks 32, putting both players in the downward-slide portion of their careers.
Both are still useful, and Klein in particular likely has some miles left, but in both trades Nashville reduced its risk of seeing a steep decline while the player was still under contract. The risk might be relatively small and some distance off, but it is one worth noting.
This was a sensible trade for both teams. A Nashville club with a lot of right-shooting defencemen and troubles generating offence added a player who balances the former and should help with the latter.
A New York club in need of right-handed shots on the blue line and a player better suited to Alain Vigneault managed to get both at the cost of somebody who clearly was not working out.
Both players fit the bill as No. 4/5 defencemen and in both cases it’s easy to see why the teams involved pulled the trigger on this deal. However, it’s hard not to like the trade from Nashville’s perspective a little more simply because Klein is all he’s ever likely to be while Del Zotto has room to improve.
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