Bringing to fruition a move that's seemed inevitable for a long time now, the New York Rangers have shipped underachieving defenseman Michael Del Zotto to the Nashville Predators for fellow D-man Kevin Klein.
The 29-year old Klein–a right handed shot–has a goal and two assists this season for Nashville, to go along with 75 hits and 94 blocked shots in 47 games. The 6'1, 199-pounder–known for his defensive acumen–carries a $2.9 million annual cap hit through the 2017-18 season (per CapGeek.com). Klein's career high in goals is 4 and points is 21, both achieved in 2011-12. He's 5th on the Preds in average ice time, at 18:48 per game, and has twice average over 20 minutes per game in a season.
The move–while certainly not flashy–fills a need. The Blueshirts have long sought another right-handed defenseman to compliment Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman, and in Klein, who figures to slot in on the third pair with John Moore–allowing him to move back to his natural left side–they have their man.
For the combustible Del Zotto–who was never able to get on Alain Vigneault's good side–the trade is a much needed fresh start. The pending RFA never developed as the Rangers hoped, and appeared to lose confidence in his game as time went on.
Klein, while certainly not offering the offensive upside of Del Zotto, is considered a solid and mobile defender, and one Vigneault knows well from his long tenure in Vancouver. The emergence of rookie Seth Jones–another right handed D–likely made the former 2nd-round pick Klein expendable to Pred's GM David Poille, who upon signing Klein to an extension, called him the embodiment of "the Predators way", saying:
"(Klein) was drafted and developed by the team, has become an integral part of our defensive corps, and is committed to being a part of our long-term success."
But, a year and half later, apparently things had changed.
At face value, the trade really doesn't offer much to get excited about for Rangers' fans. Of Klein and Del Zotto, the now former Ranger almost certainly has a higher upside. But, the days of trading the 23-year old Del Zotto for a blue-chipper have come and gone. His value was not increasing, and more than likely decreasing, with each passing day. At this juncture, it was simply better for Glen Sather to quit delaying the inevitable and get what he could for the former 1st-rounder.
The trade does open up one potentially intriguing scenario though. Dan Girardi is a UFA at the end of the season, and the 29-year old will undoubtedly command a sizable raise over the $3.325 million he's currently making. Girardi has significantly more value than Del Zotto. With Klein, who's been a top-4 defenseman on a playoff team, now in the fold, and a roster featuring 12 pending free agents, would the Rangers dare dangle Girardi in the hopes of landing a top-6 forward?
It's something to consider. This was, without a doubt, only the first of several moves the Rangers will make before the March 5th trade deadline, so before you react to the Blueshirts' unloading Del Zotto, remember, there's more to come.
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