As the dust settles after the trade of Michael Del Zotto, there were a lot of thoughts that ran through my head. There was a lot to process in this trade, and now that it’s been a day since the trade, I find myself thinking a little more level-headed.
First and foremost, this is a trade that confirms the Rangers are in win-now mode. If the Henrik Lundqvist extension wasn’t evidence enough, then this is. Del Zotto is a 23-year-old defenseman with a pair of 40 point (pace) seasons under his belt and what seems to be great potential. Klein is a 29-year-old defenseman who plays an incredibly physical game, but has also peaked. This is a trade that sacrifices potential long-term success (MDZ) for short-term needs (Klein).
Speaking of those short-term needs, Klein kills two birds with one stone. We had been wondering where the physicality and toughness on the blue line would come from, and Klein is just that. He is a rugged (6’1, 200 lbs) defensive defenseman that plays very disciplined hockey (21 PIMs) while dishing out punishment. He’s the guy that dropped Derek Dorsett at MSG when Nashville came to town. Slats compared him to Mike Sauer, and although I haven’t seen much of Klein, the comparison is pretty accurate.
Speaking of Sauer, talking about a hole that kid left when he went down with his injury. The club was simply unable to replace his right-handed physicality. Steve Eminger was the closest anyone came to filling that hole. Klein does just that.
The contract Klein has –four more years at $2.9 million– definitely came into play here. He’s a guy that is cost controlled for a while, something the Rangers desperately need with all their free agents this summer. Plus, Del Zotto was headed for another raise via arbitration this summer, likely to about $3.5 million. This actually saves cap space next year for a negligible increase this year.
It’s been noted that Klein is overpaid for a bottom pairing defenseman. There’s certainly merit in the argument. Usually teams don’t succeed by paying their bottom pairing guys $3 million. That is offset by Ryan McDonagh’s incredible bargain of a contract at $4.7 million. They have one of the best defenders in the game locked up for five years at that price. It gives them some flexibility to “overspend” on other areas.
Somehow the Dylan McIlrath/Cam Fowler conversation came up. The Rangers didn’t take Fowler because they had just seen Del Zotto hit 39 points in his rookie season as a 19-year-old. The plan was for MDZ to grow, making Fowler –who is the same player as MDZ– redundant for the Rangers. That’s why they took McIlrath, addressing the need for a bruising defenseman. The plan didn’t work out because Del Zotto didn’t develop as they had planned.
It wouldn’t be a post from me without mentioning the #fancystats. They are essentially a wash on paper. Klein plays more of a defensive role, but was a negative puck possession guy for the Preds. Del Zotto was given every opportunity to succeed in the offensive zone, but couldn’t produce. He was better at driving puck possession, but was still in the negatives relative to the rest of the Rangers.
One final note about the trade: The Rangers dealt from a surplus (young offensive defensemen: MDZ/John Moore) to address two needs (right-handed shot, toughness). Klein was a great character guy in Nashville, but they have Shea Weber and Seth Jones on the right side. Klein was the expendable one. It’s a win-win for both teams at the moment. There’s a solid chance that MDZ becomes a steady top-four guy in Nashville. We hope he does, and we wish him all the best.