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Hartnett: Klein-Del Zotto Swap Will Help Solidify Rangers’ Blue Line

Kevin Klein (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)

Kevin Klein (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)

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Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

The Rangers gained a number of immediate benefits by swapping Michael Del Zotto for 29-year-old Nashville Predators defenseman Kevin Klein on Wednesday.

Make no mistake about it. The Rangers are a win-now team and Klein will provide the blue line consistency that Del Zotto clearly lacked.

That being said, Klein won’t match the offensive production of Del Zotto. He’s not that type of talent. Klein’s presence will help stabilize the Rangers’ third defensive pairing.

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi and Marc Staal-Anton Stralman are two pairings that have familiarity and continuity. The presence of an experienced, right-handed, stay-at-home defenseman in Klein should have a positive effect on 23-year-old blue liner John Moore.

Moore will be able to slide over to his natural left side. The baby-faced Moore still has a lot to learn and playing alongside the veteran Klein could potentially accelerate his progress. Since Kline tends to hang back as a stay-at-home type defenseman, the fleet-footed Moore could be allowed more chances to pinch forward and utilize his powerful shot.

The trade makes plenty of sense financially. Competent right-handed defensemen that are capable of logging 18 to 23 minutes per game are a rarity and Klein’s $2.9 million annual cap hit through 2017-18 is a very reasonable number.

One thing that may get overlooked in this deal is Klein’s winning pedigree.

He helped lead the Guelph Storm to 2004 Memorial Cup alongside Girardi and Ryan Callahan, who he’ll join up with on Thursday ahead of the Rangers’ meeting with the St. Louis Blues.

Klein arrived in New York on Wednesday and will take part in Thursday’s 10:30 a.m. optional skate at Madison Square Garden.

DEL ZOTTO YET TO FULFILL POTENTIAL, WAS NOT MEETING EXPECTATIONS IN NEW YORK

The Rangers simply did not feel that Del Zotto was worth a bump up from his current $2.55 million salary given his apparent struggles.

Del Zotto found himself scratched nine times over the course of the 2013-14 season before being given a run of 10 consecutive games before Wednesday’s trade.

Rangers general manager Glen Sather mentioned that he appreciated Del Zotto’s efforts to improve, but views the trade as part of the evolution of the Blueshirts’ roster.

“I don’t want to criticize Michael. He had a couple of great years here,” Sather said during Wednesday’s conference call. “He’s had a couple of interesting years here that didn’t work out the way he or we had planned. But people change. The atmosphere changes, and we have to change with the times. Michael tried and worked as hard as he could. We’re always evolving. Things change in this business, and you have to change with them if you want to keep up with the times.”

Del Zotto is scheduled to become a restricted free agent and Nashville Predators GM David Poile immediately indicated that the plan is to sign the 23-year old to a long-term extension.

“Trade for the long-term,” Poile said in a Wednesday press conference. “Our goal is to sign Del Zotto to a long-term contract.”

Perhaps the less-pressured atmosphere of Nashville will be a nice change of scenery for Del Zotto. He was certainly under the microscope in New York. Rangers fans tended to analyze every decision Del Zotto made on the ice.

He will be given a clean slate in Nashville and perhaps finally make good on his potential. It’s clear that the Predators have high hopes for Del Zotto and recognize him as an integral part of their future.

DOES THE ACQUISITION OF KLEIN MAKE GIRARDI EXPENDABLE?

Some might be quick to point to Klein as “Girardi insurance” due to his shot-blocking tendencies and similar physical frame.

That may be partially true as Sather stated as such in Wednesday’s conference call. Girardi along with Callahan and Anton Stralman are key upcoming unrestricted free agents.

“I think as I said before we want to re-sign all of these players and we’d like to get it done before the end of the season if we can,” Sather said. “We’ve had discussions with the agents. This does give us a little more insurance as well. You have to look to the future when you make these deals.”

Sather’s plan is to wrap up Callahan, Girardi and Stralman before the end of the season. All three would certainly be hot commodities should they hit the open market in the summer.

You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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