How far will the Rangers get this season?

Why Michael Del Zotto Could (And Probably Should) Start The Year In Connecticut

Michael Del Zotto

Michael Del Zotto

Because the Rangers waited until deep into the summer to re-sign Steve Eminger, many had begun to accept that the team was destined to open the season with Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer, Tim Erixon and Michael Del Zotto in the starting lineup. 

But last week Newday’s Steve Zipay indicated his belief that Steve Eminger will be in the Rangers’ top-six to start the year, a scenario that is looking more and more likely.  The prime reason for that is that it would make a ton of sense for Michael Del Zotto to start the year in the minor leagues.

There are six main reasons this could, and probably should happen:

1.  As the summer has progressed the Rangers have inched closer and closer to the salary cap ceiling.  The amount of wiggle room they’ll have come October is difficult to predict, but no matter who makes the team it appears that the Blueshirts won’t have much flexibility to make roster moves during the season.  Eminger is set to make only $800,000 this year while Del Zotto has a cap hit of $1.087 million.  A roughly $300,000 gap isn’t a ton, but it can make a huge difference as the season unfolds and injuries strike or at the trade deadline when cap hits are prorated, and therefore much lower.

2.       2.  Del Zotto seemed to be figuring things out with the CT Whale during a 10-game stretch in which he posted seven assists, but after being returned to the Whale a second time he promptly broke his finger, ending his season.  There’s no reason to believe that Del Zotto isn’t completely healthy right now, but it’s always good for a young player to rehab and work up to top-speed against a lower level of competition.

3.       3.  Tim Erixon will have to earn his roster spot, but team representatives have been very outspoken about their expectations that Erixon will have an impact in the NHL this season.  Erixon faired quite well against a high level of competition in Sweden last year and he has a very fundamentally sound game, so if he looks decent at Traverse City and training camp he will make the team.

4.       4.  One of the biggest reasons the Rangers stuck with Del Zotto for so long was that they were in desperate need of his skill on the point of the power play.  Del Zotto could still be a help on the man advantage, but the need for him to carry the unit decreased immediately when Brad Richards was signed.  At some point, Del Zotto could turn into an extremely effective co-pilot on the power play, but for now the team should be able to get by - and improve on the last couple of years - without him.

5.       5.  Del Zotto’s ego clearly took a hit last year when his struggles continued and his job security loosened.  The injury set him back again and although Del Zotto has seemed to regain some of his old swagger this summer, he could be mentally fragile at the outset of the year.  Del Zotto could really benefit from a longer period of success in the minor leagues before taking on the NHL again.

6.       6.  The signing of Brendan Bell gave the Rangers another capable NHL body.  Whether the team chooses to carry seven defensemen immediately or not, Bell gives the Rangers valuable flexibility and another body to plug and play.  If Eminger and Erixon make the team, Bell could be brought along for the early season road trip and rotate in and out of the lineup, or he could be quickly called up from the Whale in the event of an injury.  Either way, the addition of Bell means the Rangers won’t have to rush Del Zotto to the pros where he might not be better than Eminger, but would play anyway because the Rangers wouldn’t want him to sit in the press box.  Bell provides a nice security blanket for the top-six and can act as a cushion for Del Zotto on the depth chart.

With a great camp, Del Zotto could force his way onto the roster ahead of Eminger and Erixon, but it would make a good amount of sense for him to start the year with the Whale.  If all goes well, he could be an invaluable midseason call-up like Ryan McDonagh a year ago, but it would be a wise move for both sides to take things slowly.


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Posted by Kevin Baumer | August 24, 2011 at 01:11 pm

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