By Jim Diamond
When Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz filled out his lineup card prior to Sunday night’s game at the United Center in Chicago, one name omitted was that of defenseman Michael Del Zotto. It was the second time in three games that Trotz made Del Zotto a healthy scratch, and for all intents and purposes, Del Zotto was basically a scratch in Friday night’s game in Calgary, seeing just 3:13 of ice time.
Against the Flames, multiple injuries up front forced the Predators to dress seven defensemen. He did post a nice assist in his very limited ice time in that game.
Acquired in a January 22nd trade with the New York Rangers that saw longtime Predator Kevin Klein sent to the other Broadway in return, Del Zotto has just four assists in 19 games played with the Predators.
On the day he made the trade for Del Zotto, Predators general manager David Poile said Del Zotto’s penchant for offense was one of the main reasons he made the deal.
“We’re a team that struggles a little bit offensively and a lot of our offense comes from our defense, and I think Del Zotto is another piece that will help us in that area,” Poile said at the time. “Del Zotto has a big time upside offensively and hopefully under our coaches, that will be fulfilled.”
Following Friday’s scratching, Trotz told The Tennessean that things weren’t working out the way he was expecting them to with Del Zotto.
“You’re always competing for a spot. He’s not veteran enough to not compete for a spot,” Trotz said. “Every night has to be about consistency for him and we have some people we can pull in and out.”
Del Zotto has tremendous offensive upside, but Trotz is not a fan of one dimensional players, and he requires them to give effort at both ends of the ice.
With just ten games remaining in the Predators’ disappointing 2013-14 season, how Del Zotto is handled down the stretch could provide just another story line in what is setting up to be an interesting offseason for Nashville.
Whether this is just a short-term player/coach disagreement or if there is more to the situation still remains to be seen.
Del Zotto wanted out of New York following last offseason’s coaching change from John Tortorella to Alain Vigneault. The trade to Nashville seemed to be just the opportunity he was looking for.
Del Zotto will be a restricted free agent at season’s end. Carrying a $2.9 million salary this season, the Predators would need to make him a qualifying offer of at least that amount just to retain his rights.
Following an all but decided second-straight finish out of the playoffs, changes to the front office and/or behind the bench seem like distinct possibilities. With so many of the team’s current players already under contract for next season, making major modifications to the roster will be an almost herculean task.
If whoever is running and coaching the team decide that they do not want Del Zotto back for next season and beyond, they have the option of not providing him a qualifying offer, essentially losing him for nothing beyond the games played here, or trying to trade him to another team.
Losing Del Zotto for nothing would not look good on the front office. Klein was a reliable defensive defenseman who is signed for four more years with a bargain of an average cap hit of $2.9 million.
There are lots of moving parts here, and the coming weeks will be interesting to watch, especially with regard to Del Zotto’s future in Nashville.