Friday, February 4, 2011

Has Del Zotto Failed The Rangers or Have They Failed Him?

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Right now it has become popular to blame Michael Del Zotto for his current struggles and look to him as a scapegoat for the New York Rangers power play struggles.  What gets lost in the simplicity of that arrangement is the idea that Del Zotto himself is solely to blame for where he is at this stage of his development.  It is time for the New York Rangers to stop the Michael Del Zotto experiment and send the young defender down to the Connecticut Whale and leave him there for the rest of the season. I am not suggesting that they even explore trading him at this point because the talent is clearly there, but the moment appears too big right now for where he is in his development. The time has also come to blame the organization along with Del Zotto for where he is at this point.
The team sent him down a month ago in order to work on a multitude of problems he was having at the NHL level this season; confidence, defensive positioning, making the simple pass, overall decision making and hitting the net with his shot more consistently. After having my doubts in the build up to the move, I was in favor of sending Del Zotto down to work on his game and give him some space from coach John Tortorella. The combination of being scratched from games and playing scared to not make a mistake was making Michael useless to the NHL club. 
He was sent down and was there for a grand total of eight games.  His play in the AHL was inconsistent from game to game, but he was recalled just before the All-Star break as insurance for Dan Girardi and his injured ribs.  When he came back John Tortorella clearly stated that he was only up because of injury and not because his play warranted the recall.  Del Zotto ended up playing both games before the break and was not good in the first, but solid in the second.  When the Rangers sent him back to the AHL so that he could play during the NHL break I had this nagging feeling in my gut, based on comments from Tortorella that they were going to bring him following the break.  My thought process was that they were looking for an excuse to keep him because of the pitiful power play and the hopes that he could help solve some of the issues with point play.  
Unfortunately that fear has been realized and Del Zotto has come back and been forced in the lineup because of the desire to use him on said power play.  There has been the cover excuse of Steve Eminger having slipped in his play, which he has, but the slippage for Eminger still leaves him considerably higher than the level Del Zotto is at right now.  The reality is they were looking to repeat what happened last year when a not ready for the NHL Del Zotto was kept here and rushed because he showed an offensive flare and helped solve a power play quarterback problem the Rangers have not been able to solve for a long time. 
The idea that eight games in the AHL could fix the myriad of problems that Del Zotto had is ludicrous.  Del Zotto is still making many of the same mistakes as Tuesday against Pittsburgh his coverage on the goal by Mike Rupp was abysmal in failing to check the stick.  Tonight, Del Zotto was in there again purely because his shot on the PP was deflected home by Callahan for the tying goal against Pitt.  In the game tonight he played tentative and scared hockey for parts of the game and then at other times was reckless with the puck. 
In the third period after the Rangers get within one on Prospal’s 5-on-3 goal the Rangers still had the man advantage.  Well, they did until Del Zotto turned the puck over in the neutral zone trying for a home run pass and then proceeded to take a tripping penalty to kill the power play and some of the momentum.  Let me be clear, Del Zotto was certainly not responsible in the end for the loss, since that was clearly on Lundqvist and the inability to finish chances.  

Even more inexplicable than the play by Del Zotto that killed that prior power play was the move by Tortorella to put him right back out there on the first unit the next time the Rangers got the advantage.  For Tortorella to harp on how Michael making the same mistakes over and over again as part of why he sent him down a month ago and then stick him in the same position after he just screwed up royally is complete hypocrisy in my opinion.  A large part of coaching is putting players in positions where they can succeed and that moment screamed of desperation about the calamity that is the power play and setting a kid up to fail again so he would have an excuse to do something with him.
The time has come to end the experiment.  I do not mean for this week, or this month either.  Send him down to the AHL and leave him there for the rest of the year and that is regardless of he plays or what happens at the NHL level.  The shuffle back and forth is doing him no good and doing the Rangers no good.  Leave him there, let him develop and let him earn something otherwise the risk is that you ruin a tremendously talented player for much more than just a season.  To all the fans that think Del Zotto has failed the Rangers, take a moment and think if this organization has failed him too.