IT TURNS out an arbitration hearing won't be necessary after all when it comes to Michael Del Zotto and the Flyers.
Just five days before the 25-year-old defenseman was scheduled to have his salary-arbitration hearing, the two parties agreed on a reported two-year contract worth $7.75 million, $3.875 million against the cap per year. This leaves the Flyers with around $360,000 in cap space, according to general manager Ron Hextall.
Signing Del Zotto, a veteran of six NHL seasons, was always on offseason priority for Hextall.
"We've said from the start that we didn't want to go to arbitration and they said the same thing," Hextall said. "Sometimes you need a deadline to finalize things."
Del Zotto, who was signed to a one-year deal last summer after it was clear Kimmo Timonen would be out for an extended period, led all Flyers defensemen with 10 goals in 64 games. His 32 points were second on the team's blue line to Mark Streit's 52, and Del Zotto's average ice time of 21:55 was also second to Streit.
But it wasn't a smooth year for Del Zotto by any stretch. Del Zotto, who was coming off a few frustrating seasons with the Rangers and Predators, spent part of the season in former coach Craig Berube's doghouse, being relegated to watching 11 games in the press box as a healthy scratch. He found his stride after the New Year, however, and was, by many accounts, one of the team's best defensemen beginning in January.
"I've said it from Day 1," Del Zotto said, "I love Philadelphia, absolutely love the fans, closest group of guys I've ever been with, I truly do believe in our team. With everything I've been hearing with the new coach [Dave Hakstol] playing an , I'm really, really excited to start this year."
"It just seemed like two [years] was perfect for both sides. Both sides really wanted it."
Both sides had good reason to limit the deal to two years. Del Zotto will be 27 and still in his prime when his contract ends, opening the possibility for a big payday whether in Philly or elsewhere. And it's no secret the Flyers have great depth in terms of defensive prospects.
The club last month drafted defenseman Ivan Provorov, who may be NHL-ready, with its first pick (seventh overall), adding to an already-deep group of blue liners in the system.
The Del Zotto signing makes it less likely Provorov makes the team in the fall because the Flyers have eight defensemen at the NHL level. Del Zotto joins Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Evgeni Medvedev, Radko Gudas, Nick Schultz and Brandon Manning under contract.
"We have a lot of great defensemen," Del Zotto said. "We dealt with that last year, as far not [knowing] when you're going to be in or out of the lineup. I'm not sure what to expect."
Hextall has indicated throughout the offseason that he'd like to eliminate some cap space off the blue line, which would also help a crowded situation. Easier said than done. Streit ($5.25 million) and MacDonald ($5 million) both have greater cap hits than Del Zotto for next season. And Schenn's $3.6 million hit likely would be difficult to move.
So, is there a move coming? Or will this likely be the team that hits the ice when training camp begins on Sept. 17? Hextall indicated this was sort of a quiet period in the league and that he couldn't predict what would happen next.
"In a perfect world we'd find some space," Hextall said. "But we're under the cap. We're comfortable where we're at. It's not ideal, but I think we're in a position where we can manage it.
"I don't know if you ever sit and say, 'I'm happy with where we're at.' So you continue to look for things . . . there will be things we continue to look at. Whether we'll do anything, I think this is the last thing of urgency. But we'll continue to try to tweak our roster any way we can to try and get better."
Konecny inks deal
The Flyers announced yesterday morning they had reached a three-year entry-level contract with 24th overall pick Travis Konecny, making him the second of the club's two first-rounders to sign, joining Ivan Provorov.
The 18-year-old center tallied 68 points in 60 games while captaining the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League last season. He'll likely spend at least another year in juniors.
Ron Hextall said that talks between the team and Jake Voracek's agent, Petr Svoboda, are ongoing. The 25-year-old winger's contract expires after the 2015-16 season. Hextall said he'd prefer to get a deal done before training camp. But: "There's no deadline on something like that. So we tend to drag on," Hextall said . . . The Flyers, at this point, plan to go into the season with Vinny Lecavalier on the team, according to Hextall.