After news came down from the Philadelphia Flyers that defenseman Kimmo Timonen was diagnosed with multiple blood clots, it became clear that the team was going to need some help before the start of next season on the blue line.
They wasted no time in acquiring that help, as the Flyers agreed to terms on a one-year contract with unrestricted free agent defenseman Michael Del Zotto. According to Darren Dreger of TSN, the deal will pay Del Zotto $1.3 million. The 24-year-old rearguard finished out the 2013-14 season with the Nashville Predators after being traded from the New York Rangers. He had 16 points in 67 games between the two squads.
Though Del Zotto's career has taken a bit of a downward turn, the veteran defenseman has seasons of 41 and 37 points in his past and put up 21 points in the lockout-shortened season, all with the Rangers. He can produce from the back end and the Flyers are going to need some added mobility in the absence of Timonen.
The former 20th overall pick by the Rangers has 126 points in 317 NHL games.
After his 25-game stint in Nashville, Del Zotto was not extended a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. He was coming off a two-year deal worth $2.55 million.
It is unlikely that Del Zotto will be able to replace Timonen's minutes as he could end up as a bottom-pairing option for coach Craig Berube, but his mobility and distribution skills will help. It's the defensive game that leads to some concern, but Philadelphia doesn't really have anyone on the blue line quite like Del Zotto.
After announcing that Timonen was being treated for blood clots, general manager Ron Hextall told Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer that he hoped to add a veteran defenseman to the mix and expects Timonen to be out "long term." He acted quickly and probably with good reason.
With the season growing nearer and teams looking to fill out their rosters, Del Zotto as a 24-year-old veteran would have likely been in higher demand as the summer wore on, even though he was passed over early and often as free agency opened.
Depending on the length of recovery time expected for Timonen, if he's able to come back at all, he may be placed on long-term injured reserve which will alleviate some of that cap pressure. He, along with Chris Pronger, who will also be placed on LTIR when the season begins, won't count against the cap at all. With their contracts, the Flyers are over the salary cap.
Signing Del Zotto helps in a number of facets. It puts less pressure on the Flyers to call up some of their younger defensive prospects like Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin or Robert Hagg. All probably could use more seasoning in the lower levels at this point.
Even though this is a need-based signing by the Flyers, the fact that they are getting Del Zotto at relatively low risk on a one-year, decently cheap contract, leaves possibility for high value in return. That's no guarantee considering how Del Zotto fell from grace last season, but his past and the fact that he's only 24 years old at least makes a bounce-back year seem possible.
For Del Zotto, it's a chance to prove he can still be an NHL-caliber defenseman after he went more than a month without a contract offer after free agency opened. With his 2013-14 season looking like a relative disaster, there's quite a bit of work to do to rebuild his reputation and get his career back on what was once a very promising track.