Predators land D Michael Del Zotto

Updated: January 22, 2014, 7:49 PM ET
By Matt Ehalt | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers have traded defenseman Michael Del Zotto to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Kevin Klein, the team confirmed Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeMichael Del Zotto
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Rangers traded Michael Del Zotto to Nashville for Kevin Klein.

The deal puts an end to months of speculation about Del Zotto, who struggled to find a consistent roster spot under first-year coach Alain Vigneault.

Vigneault and general manager Glen Sather said the Rangers made the trade to bring in another right-handed defenseman. Del Zotto is a southpaw. 

Sather said the Rangers had been in conversations with Nashville for some time.

"Our scouts had some real good reports on him," Vigneault said. "I've seen him for many years. Solid two-way defenseman, more of a defensive-type defenseman. Right-handed shot.

"Michael wasn't comfortable on the right side. We had to move John Moore there. Johnny Moore is better on the left side, so we just thought for our overall team this would be a better fit for us."

Del Zotto, a 23-year-old former first-round pick and highly regarded defensive prospect within the Rangers organization, played in only 42 of the team's 52 games this season. He has served multiple stints as a healthy scratch. He registered two goals and nine assists.

The Rangers had finished practice before the trade was announced, so Del Zotto was not available for comment. He thanked the organization in a series of tweets several hours after being dealt.

In his fifth year with the organization, Del Zotto found himself in Vigneault's doghouse this season. In November, Vigneault said he was told that Del Zotto was a much better player than he had seen thus far.

"For the most part, Michael was all right," Vigneault said. "He played some good hockey. I was expecting a little bit more offensively. For whatever reason it didn't come out on a regular basis. Not sure why. At the end of the day, his play lately had been better. We were on a pretty good streak right now and he had been part of that."

Del Zotto had 121 points in 292 games with the Rangers, registering 26 goals and 95 assists. He had a fantastic rookie year, with nine goals and 28 assists, and had his best season in 2011-12, when he posted career highs in goals (10), assists (31) and points (41).

In the past two seasons, including this one, he combined for just 32 points.

"I don't want to criticize Michael," Sather said on a conference call. "He had a couple of great years and a couple of interesting years here that didn't work out the way he or we had planned. People change, the atmosphere changes and we have to change with the time. That's just the way it worked. I know Michael worked as hard as he could."

Vigneault said Klein is not an offensive-minded defenseman but is a good two-way player. He coached against Klein when he guided Vancouver, and his thoughts on Klein meshed with what the scouts had seen.

Klein can help on the penalty kill, but not the power play. He has one goal and three points this season. Klein will begin on the third defensive line with Moore, but Vigneault indicated he will be in competition to move up to the second line.

With Klein in the fold, the Rangers now have righty/lefty splits for all three defensive lines. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are the top line, while Marc Staal and Anton Stralman are the second unit. If Klein moved to the second unit, he would replace Stralman. Moore will be with Klein on the third line. 

Klein is in the first year of a five-year, $14.5 million deal, and Sather said this deal makes sense both financially and from a hockey standpoint for the Rangers.

Del Zotto is a restricted free agent at season's end and could command more. Adding Klein is also important as the Rangers' two other right-handed defensemen -- Stralman and Girardi -- are pending unrestricted free agents.

"We want to re-sign all of these players and we'd like to get it done before the season is finished if we can," Sather said. "We've had discussions with their agents and hopefully we'll get it done."

Vigneault said Klein will play Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the St. Louis Blues. Klein had 16 goals and 66 assists in 403 career games with Nashville.

"This was just a matter of a right-hander and left-hander," Vigneault said. "[Del Zotto] and Johnny Moore, the same age and both bring similar things to the table, and the right-hander in my estimation and Glen's estimation made us a better core on D."

Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang was used in this report.

Matt Ehalt

ESPN New York contributor

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