The New York Rangers have made a stronger effort to draft and develop young players over the last few seasons, and this strategy has worked well for them.
Before the 2004-05 lockout and the first few years that followed, the Rangers usually spent big in free agency to add veteran stars to the roster, but several of those signings turned out to be poor decisions (Bobby Holik, Chris Drury, Wade Redden and Scott Gomez, for example).
Now that the Rangers have an impressive core of young players on the blue line, it would be a terrible decision to break up this group to acquire a veteran player who is a "rental" as an upcoming unrestricted free agent (UFA) or an aging player past his prime.
Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller are as untouchable now as they were at last year’s deadline, when the Blue Jackets tried to pry some combination of the above in exchange for Rick Nash, and whatever happened anyway to No. 61, anyway? Unless they’ve lost their minds in the executive offices of the Garden, Chris Kreider would also be off-limits.
Which leaves ... well, it leaves Michael Del Zotto as the Blueshirts’ most marketable commodity. But even as the 22-year-old defenseman with the entirely reasonable cap hit of $2.55 million would likely be able to fetch an asset in return, it’s hard to believe the Rangers would come out ahead on such an addition/subtraction equation.
Unless you are getting another great player who is young or in the early stages of his prime, trading away a talented young blueliner is usually a bad idea. These players take longer than forwards to reach their full potential, and if teams give up on them sooner than they should, finding another one can take many years.
Del Zotto currently leads all Rangers defensemen in scoring with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 28 games.
Following a breakout year in 2009-10 when he tallied 37 points as a rookie, Del Zotto did not meet expectations in his sophomore campaign with 11 points in just 47 games. After a bounce-back 2011-12 season and a strong start to 2013, Del Zotto is starting to show the consistency that Rangers management expected from him early in his career.
However, the most impressive part of Del Zotto's development over the last two seasons has been the improvement of his defensive skills.
Del Zotto came into the league as a good offensive defenseman who was a bit of a liability in his own zone, but he's quickly becoming a dependable two-way player. He does not turn the puck over as much as he used to, and his positioning has gotten much better.
Playing in Tortorella's defensive-minded system—one that requires defensemen to excel in their own end, win puck battles along the boards and block shots—has been largely responsible for Del Zotto's defensive improvement.
Del Zotto ranks fifth on the Rangers in blocked shots (35), fifth in hits (52) and leads all defensemen on the team with a plus-minus rating of six. He also ranks third on the team in total time on ice and averages 1:52 of shorthanded time on ice per game, while leading all Rangers defensemen with 2:59 of power-play time per game.
In just a few seasons, Del Zotto could be one of the league's better two-way defenseman before reaching the prime of his career. Those types of players are not easy to find, which is why very few elite puck-moving defensemen are moved at trade deadline each season despite the fact that so many playoff contenders need them.
With that said, there are many more cons than pros when debating whether or not the Rangers should consider moving Del Zotto before the trade deadline. In fact, there really aren't any "pros" other than the obvious fact that young defensemen are valued highly on the trade market because not many teams have a player like MDZ on their blue line.
Pros of Trading MDZ
- Talented young defensemen have a lot of value on the trade market.
Cons of Trading MDZ
- His defensive game has improved a ton since his rookie season.
- He's just 22 years old and has lots of NHL experience with over 230 games played.
- He doesn't reach UFA status for five more seasons.
- MDZ and Ryan McDonagh could be an elite, shutdown defensive pairing for a decade.
- New York does not have any top-tier offensive defenseman prospects.
- It's not easy replacing a top-four defenseman who is capable of playing 22-plus minutes against opposing teams' top forwards each night.
The Rangers have built a strong blue line that includes several good, young players and veterans such as Dan Girardi, who have not yet reached or are in the early stages of their prime.
|Player||Age||Pts in 2013|
|Michael Del Zotto||22||13|
Breaking up this group would be a terrible move for New York and an overreaction to the team's struggles in this shortened season.
Teams should be envious of the young talent that the Rangers have on their blue line, and since the team has proven it can win games by playing a defense-first style of hockey, trading a top-four defenseman is not a smart decision.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.