Over time, the Detroit Red Wings have been known as a team where unwanted players can go to get reborn. Recently, the likes of Dallas Drake, Dan Cleary, Darren McCarty and Brad Stuart have come out of the woodwork and put past issues behind them to plat a major role on successful editions of the team.
Considering the Red Wings were embarrassingly shut out in free agency last week, the time might be right to undertake yet another reclamation project, this one on defense. Though he’s not currently an elite option, nor does he have the experience of a Derek Morris or Ed Jovanovski, Michael Del Zotto might have the most natural untapped talent of anyone remaining, adding some definite intrigue to his name.
Originally drafted by the New York Rangers in 2008, Del Zotto won NHL’s rookie of the month award immediately in October 2009 at age 19. Despite showing signs of an elite offensive game, however, Del Zotto failed to showcase his early flash consistently, and was sent back to the minors in 2010. After struggling throughout the last three seasons in New York since, Del Zotto was traded last January to the Nashville Predators, and didn’t do himself any favors there.
Now, considering he’s been given up on by two franchises and three different coaches, Del Zotto will enter his next destination at his lowest point. A qualifying offer was not picked up by the Predators and new coach Peter Laviolette, meaning Del Zotto is free to test what’s proven to be a good market for defenders.
Enter the Red Wings. Though Del Zotto is a left-handed shot, could his name be one that comes up as Detroit searches for some summer value? According to Jimmy Murphy of XNsports, the Red Wings might make some sense as a destination. There’s been nothing else definitive officially linking the parties together, but the subtle whisper should have been good enough to get plenty thinking.
As Larry Brooks of the New York Post pointed out, Del Zotto’s problem hasn’t necessarily been a lack of talent, but proper temperament. Many, including Brooks, contend he’s seen as a hard player to coach. At 24, however, he is still plenty young enough to get a third chance from somebody, especially this offseason, when a run on defense came early and often during the opening hours of free agency.
Given the Red Wings’ situation, Detroit could be that place. Ken Holland, though still feeling the heat after striking out, probably doesn’t want to give up any precious assets for Tyler Myers, Keith Yandle or Dustin Byfuglien. He also probably doesn’t want to give an aging Morris or Jovanovski a major role. Considering this, he could offer Del Zotto a chance to connect with the also notoriously difficult Mike Babcock on an incentive-laden deal and see if magic happened. If Del Zotto is motivated and the right buttons are pushed, he could earn a spot and perhaps work his way up Detroit’s pairing sheet. If not, Detroit would still get a chance to let their youth step in rather quick, which is likely what Holland wants now anyway.
Signing the maligned Del Zotto as a free agent wouldn’t win Holland any summer awards, but if successful, it could turn out to be a move that proves Detroit’s general manager still has a bit of savvy left later on. The risk would be low, but the potential for reward would certainly be high.
As a scrap heap signing after the initial July frenzy goes, the Red Wings could probably do much worse than inking Del Zotto to a deal. It’s the situation Detroit’s currently in, seeing as nobody can make the argument that the defense is better off or improved as constructed without him.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax