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One of the biggest issues facing the Devils in a few days will be strengthening their blue line. While improving defensively is a big part of what needs to be done, helping add offense and getting the puck ahead to their forwards in transition will also be a big part. There aren’t a ton of top-flight puck-moving defensemen available. There’s Kevin Shattenkirk. who the Devils will surely be in on, but it’s far from a guarantee he signs in New Jersey. Another target Ray Shero could redirect his focus on is Michael Del Zotto, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.
Del Zotto finished this past season with 18 points in 51 games, good for 28 points over an 82 game stretch. He may have had his ups and downs in Philadelphia, but Del Zotto has put up decent numbers in five-on-five situations and could be very helpful for New Jersey on their blue line.
Over his three seasons in Philadelphia, Del Zotto has been a useful player for the Flyers. The Flyers’ possession has been 50.3% with him on the ice as opposed to 50.4 % when he’s off the ice. Obviously, there’s barely any difference there, but he was not a detriment to the Flyers possession numbers. He was also a good shot generator averaging 58.1 shot attempts per 60 minutes when on the ice, which was 9th-best for any Flyers player with 1000+ minutes.
Defensively, Del Zotto’s numbers are a mixed bag. The Flyers averaged 2.32 goals against per 60 minutes when he was on the ice, which was the third-best mark on the team for skaters with 1000+ minutes. His shot suppression, however, was a bit concerning. He averaged 57.3 shot attempts against per 60 minutes, which is one of three worst numbers on the Flyers since 2014. Del Zotto did see a fair bit of action on the penalty kill in his first two years in Philadelphia, but only 64 minutes this past season. I’d expect New Jersey to keep his PK minutes limited if he does happen to sign.
For the Devils, the real value in Del Zotto would be his offensive game. The Devils are rumored to be looking for defensemen who can get the puck out in transition to their forwards on breakouts from their own end. Del Zotto has some of that offensive ability Ray Shero would be looking for. He’s averaged 31 points over an 82 game pace in his time in Philadelphia and had 32 points as recently as 2014-15. He’s also averaged 0.88 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 over the last three seasons. That may not seem like a lot, but that’s good for thirty-eighth in the league over that time.
Del Zotto has some value on the power play as well. He’s averaged 2.79 points per 60 minutes on the man advantage and can help quarterback the Devils second power play unit. New Jersey doesn’t have anyone other than Damon Severson and maybe John Moore who can help out in that regard, so Del Zotto would be a welcomed addition to a man-advantage that could use some help.
Del Zotto may not be the greatest defensively, but he’s decent enough. As I mentioned above, the greatest value for the Devils would be what he provides offensively. He’s not a top-pair defenseman by any means, but on a second pair (perhaps with a defensively responsible Damon Severson), he could be quite effective. Del Zotto probably won’t come with that high of a price tag and will certainly fit into the Devils offseason plans without putting a significant dent in their cap space.
The biggest issue for Del Zotto would be a playing a full slate of games. The most he played in Philadelphia was 64, and he finished this season with just 51 contests played. That should help lower his value a bit, but for what he brings to the table, he’d be good for the Devils and would help provide a boost in the transition game that Ray Shero is looking to improve from his defensemen this offseason.