The Philadelphia Flyers may only be five points out of a playoff spot, but they’re going to be in tough to fight their way into the post-season without the services of defenseman Michael Del Zotto for the rest of the season.
Flyers GM Ron Hextall announced Sunday that Del Zotto, who has missed the past four games with a wrist injury, will miss the next three to four months recovering from surgery to repair ligament damage in his wrist. Del Zotto hasn’t had the surgery yet, but is set to go under the knife Friday.
Del Zotto has really started to come into his own this season in Philadelphia, and the 25-year-old was showing signs of becoming the top-pairing blueliner he was projected to be when the New York Rangers selected him 20th overall in 2008.
To this point in the season, no Flyers player was logging more ice time per game than Del Zotto’s 23:25 per outing. And even though he’s far from matching his 10-goal, 32-point total from 2014-15, Del Zotto’s game seems to have rounded itself out better this season.
On a near nightly basis, Del Zotto has been up against the opposition’s top line and he has faced the third-most difficult quality of competition over the course of the campaign. More importantly, though, is that while Del Zotto has been on the ice the Flyers have both out-possessed and out-chanced the opposition. If Del Zotto continues to trend in that direction, he could be a top-pairing defenseman in Philadelphia for years to come.
This was a big season for Del Zotto, too, because he had the added pressure of trying to live up to a big-money contract for the second time in his career. He had previously had to take a pay cut to sign with the Flyers in 2014-15 — his one-year, $1.3-million deal was little more than half of his previous season’s pay — but he impressed last season en route to a two-year, $7.75-million contract. He has one season remaining on that deal.
Del Zotto’s injury means he’ll be late to start training for next season, too. Even a three-month timeline for return would result in Del Zotto not hitting the ice until late May or early June.
While the Flyers are still close enough to making the post-season that they could continue to push, the loss of Del Zotto could be enough to move Philadelphia towards selling at the deadline. The Flyers have four players, including Sam Gagner and Michael Raffl, who will become unrestricted free agents at season’s end.