Player Review: Michael Del Zotto

After signing Michael Del Zotto off the scrap heap late in the summer following Kimmo Timonen’s unfortunate blood clots, he opened the season battling with Nick Schultz for the 6th defenseman spot and won it to start the year. Amid a bevy of blueline injuries and generally shoddy play by the unit, Del Zotto was one of the lone bright spots throughout the course of the year, particularly during the second half of the season, and may very well have won the team’s Barry Ashbee award for best defenseman if Craig Berube hadn’t inexplicably scratched him for a long string of games in December and January.

Stats

64 games played, 10 goals, 22 assists, 32 points, 48.7% CF%

Del Zotto saw a big bounceback from a subpar 2013-2014 season split between the Rangers and Predators that saw him post just 3 goals and 16 points in 67 games. Part of that was certainly due to his shooting percentage jumping up to 8.8% after 2 consecutive years below 3.7%. The average for NHL defensemen last season was 5.4%, so expect at least some regression towards the mean from Del Zotto next season. However, there were a lot of underlying positives showing Del Zotto made some real improvement as well. He was 7th on the team with 21 5v5 points and tied for 8th with 7 5v5 goals, both of which led the team among defensemen despite his games missed due to poor roster management by Berube as well as injury. He was also the only regular defenseman with over 1.00 P/60 last year, as he led the team’s blueline with 1.15 P/60. After a rough 2013-2014, Del Zotto reestablished himself as a very good offensive defenseman this season.

From a possession standpoint, MDZ wasn’t anything special last year. Here were his WOWY stats with everyone he spent at least 200 minutes playing with last season:

Player CF% together Player CF% w/o Del Zotto CF% w/o
Schenn, L. 51.30% 51.10% 49.80%
Giroux 54.00% 52.40% 46.00%
Couturier 45.60% 49.70% 50.00%
Voracek 53.50% 53.60% 46.50%
Schenn, B. 49.70% 49.70% 48.30%
Read 45.10% 47.90% 50.10%
Simmonds 51.60% 50.00% 47.70%
Schultz 42.20% 49.20% 50.80%
Raffl 55.40% 55.10% 46.60%
Bellemare 45.10% 46.80% 49.50%

A lot of sub-50% numbers there, and what’s especially troubling is that most of these players fared much better apart from Del Zotto than he did apart from them, suggesting he’s more of a passenger than a play driver. That’s obviously not ideal, but a good coach can certainly get the best out of Del Zotto by giving him more sheltered offensive zone minutes against weaker competition. He absolutely has the offensive talent to thrive in a role like that, but Craig Berube’s deployment of Del Zotto left a lot to be desired. He started in the offensive zone less often than Streit, Colaiacovo, MacDonald, and Luke Schenn. Another way of looking at it: despite Nick Grossmann handling the puck like a live grenade, he started in the offensive zone just as often as Del Zotto did. Now, part of that deployment had to do with the injuries and general lack of talent on the Flyers’ blueline that saw Del Zotto thrust into a larger defensive role than the team probably would have anticipated or preferred, but the fact remains that MDZ’s possession shortcomings can be hidden better with more offensive zone starts and his skillset can be better utilized with more offensive zone starts as well.

Expectations

They were honestly pretty low going into the year. He sat unsigned into early August, and was only picked up due to the injury suffered by Timonen. It says a lot about the Flyers’ evaluation of defensemen that Nick Schultz was signed as the spare defenseman ahead of Del Zotto, and was signed to an in-season extension over Del Zotto as well. However, I think Del Zotto wildly exceeded my expectations and the expectations of just about every Flyers fan with his production this season. He led the team’s defense in goals with 10 and finished second behind Streit in both assists and points despite not having the benefit of extended minutes on the elite top power play unit like Streit did and missing over 20% of the season between scratches and his injury. To get that sort of production from a late summer, buy-low free agent signing who was expected to compete for the 6th defenseman spot entering the year was absolutely awesome, and a pleasant surprise for sure.

What’s He Worth?

Del Zotto is a restricted free agent this offseason, but the Flyers already have MacDonald, Streit, Schenn, Grossmann, Schultz, Radko Gudas, and Brandon Manning signed for next season at the minimum. That’s 7 defensemen already committed to, most of whom aren’t all that good. The Flyers need to move some contracts on their defense this summer to make room to keep Del Zotto. However, some of them (*coughs loudly*ANDREWMACDONALD*coughs loudly*) are absolutely untradeable under any circumstances imaginable. That’s why I think the best way to keep MDZ might be to move Mark Streit. Despite his advanced age, he put up 51 points last season and is a good PP QB from the point. He’s only signed for 2 more years, he has a reputation as a good leader in the locker room, and he’ll definitely have value to a playoff-caliber team looking to improve their power play. Moving Streit would free up salary for Del Zotto as well as give him an opportunity on the top power play unit. Obviously, I would rather move Grossmann, Schultz, or MacDonald, but those don’t seem all that likely. As far as the actual terms of Del Zotto’s contract, it depends on how many years of his unrestricted free agency they want to buy out. I’d be happy giving him 3 years, $9M or 4 years, $14.5M. That’s a fair contract for what he is: a second-pairing defenseman with some great strengths (offensive ability) and some fairly obvious flaws (inconsistent defensive zone play, poor possession driver).

Season Grade

A. To get the production they got from him this year relative to his standing on the team and general reputation around the league after his poor 2013-2014 season was incredible, and can’t be considered anything less than an A grade for the 2014-2015 season.

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