Rangers

Hartnett: Expect Michael Del Zotto To Be Odd Man Out In Rangers’ Plans

Something's Gotta Give; Blueshirts Need To Free Up Precious Cap Space
Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

With the start of free agency looming on Friday, the New York Rangers should be looking to shed salary in order to get in on the action.

Currently, the Rangers have roughly $13 million in available cap space, though most of that will be swallowed by their imperative list of summer priorities. General manager Glen Sather’s key tasks include extending the contract of all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and re-signing restricted free agents Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello and recently acquired defenseman Justin Falk.

All five restricted free agents mentioned have been extended qualifying offers. The same cannot be said of Michael Sauer, whose promising career is likely over due to his inability to shake off persistent concussion syndromes.

Stepan and McDonagh will probably receive raises above the $4 million mark in annual average value and Lundqvist’s salary could get bumped up from $6.875 million to somewhere between $7.25 and $8.25 million. All of this combined with the re-signing Hagelin, Stepan, Zuccarelo and Falk will leave very little room under the cap.

The situation doesn’t leave much space for targeting free agents. Sather might be looking to get any kind of compensation for unrestricted free agent to be Ryane Clowe.

New York acquired two new defensemen in recent days in the sturdy Falk from the Minnesota Wild and puck-moving AHL player Danny Syvret from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Bruising 21-year-old AHL defenseman Dylan McIlrath is ready to make the jump to the NHL compete for a place in the Blueshirts’ three defensive pairings.

Something has to give.

WHY THE RANGERS MUST DEAL DEL ZOTTO

Since Sather decided to delay his decision buy out Brad Richards until another summer, the Rangers are saddled with his $6.67 million cap hit in 2013-14.

Whether or not Richards can rediscover his renowned playmaking abilities is a story for another day. Right now, Sather must exercise some cap relief if he wishes to improve his roster. That $6.67 number isn’t being erased through the Rangers’ final compliance buy out, so another player will have to pack his bags.

I expect that player to be inconsistent defenseman Michael Del Zotto. At 23, Del Zotto could be attractive to a number of clubs searching for an athletic defenseman who is yet to fully tap into his upside.

Assuming Marc Staal recovers from his eye injury, the Rangers have nine defensemen capable of competing for six spots. Staal, McDonagh and Dan Girardi are indispensable blueliners. Anton Stralman took large strides forward in 2013 by transforming into a solidifying presence, especially after Staal’s injury.

Stralman is set to earn $1.7 million in 2013-14, which means he’s cheaper than Del Zotto, who is set to earn $2.55 million.

In an ideal world, the Rangers would be able to keep hold of Del Zotto and allow him a fresh start under Alain Vigneault. The new head coach favors players like Del Zotto, who can jump into the rush.

Unfortunately, Sather’s hands are tied. He has to move a player or two to free up a decent amount of cap room. Del Zotto is likely the most notable Blueshirt to be sacrificed this summer.

Follow Sean on Twitter — @HartnettHockey.

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