The Curious Case of Michael Del Zotto

3rdDec. × ’13

Last spring after being ousted from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins the New York Rangers were due for some change. They got it. A Stanley Cup winning coach was dismissed. In place of the fiery Tortorlla who’s bywords are; discipline, structure, consistency and effort is former Vancouver Canucks bench minder. It was expected that the more offensively minded players like Carl Hagelin, Rick Nash and Michael Del Zotto would (finally) flourish.

But that’s hardly the case. Del Zotto has once again found himself on the outside looking in. The Stouffville Ontario native has been punted from the lineup in a quarter of the season’s games. But why exactly? John Moore, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi each have worse on ice save percentages. Both Stralman and Moore are taking more penalties, and since none of the three is a fighter, the penalties are very comparable. No other Rangers blueliner is as likely to finish a shift in the offensive zone as Del Zotto either.

The New York Rangers are 25th in goals for heading into action on December 3rd. That’s a full ten places below where they finished last season (where MDZ played most games). They are producing at about half a goal per game below the number they put together in last years campaign. It could be just a coincidence that Del Zotto an offensive defenseman selected in the first round is regressing under an offensive minded coach.

More likely it has something to do with going from playing 23 minutes a night over the last two seasons to an anemic 18 this season. Where the time has come from is also revelatory. Under Tortorella Del Zotto played a respectable if not staggering 1:23 of shorthanded time on ice a game for each of the previous two seasons. On the other special team he an average of over 3 minutes a night. Now, he’s down to eight seconds a night of penalty kill time and just 2:30 per game of powerplay time.

It is pretty common for fans to scapegoat a player. sometimes fairly, others not. The media does it and no one who pays attention takes it too seriously. But when coaches do it, especially inaccurately, that’s something else entirely. Reading the future in goat entrails is just as easy and accurate as trying to forecast Alain Vigneault’s moves. Even working backwards with the facts to arrive at the current coach’s motivation is difficult.

In this case we have an offensive minded defenseman who’s finishing more shifts in the offensive zone than any other defenseman. While not known for his defense consistent use on the penalty kill under another coach does tend to indicate a player has some ability at a given task, and two seasons back the team’s penalty kill was better than this year’s edition. The powerplay which has improved under Vigneault is given a boost in opportunities when Del Zotto is in the lineup as only Falk draws more penalties among the Rangers defensemen.

So what gives? Has Del Zotto regressed to the level where he’s a  6th or 7th defensemen or is someone ignoring the facts?


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