Michael Del Zotto

Michael Del Zotto wants to be the defensive spark plug the Rangers need

Two seasons ago, defenseman Michael Del Zotto surprised Rangers fans by making the team out of training camp. In his rookie season, Del Zotto was able to be an offensive helper on the blue line scoring nine goals and adding 28 assists. With that kind of point production from a then 19 year-old defenseman, the future seemed to be very bright for both Del Zotto and the Rangers.

As will happen on occasion to young players, they run into problems in their sophomore season and Del Zotto fell on hard times for sure. Del Zotto struggled defensively and lost his touch on offense leading to him being sent to AHL Connecticut after 47 games. In that time, Del Zotto had just two goals and nine assists and didn’t show the necessary improvement defensively for coach John Tortorella to keep him in the lineup. While the Rangers got solid play from Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Michael Sauer they lacked that offensive touch from the blue line and acquired Bryan McCabe to help out late in the year and in the playoffs.

Heading into camp this year, McCabe is gone and Del Zotto has lessons learned after spending part of the season in the AHL as well as having his season ended early thanks to a broken finger. As Andrew Gross of Ranger Rants shares, Del Zotto wants to prove he belongs in Manhattan this season and can bring some of that scoring touch back to their blue line.

“I’m pretty self-motivated,” Del Zotto added. “Especially after last year. This is a huge year for me. I’m all business.”

Del Zotto said the aim is to bring back the swagger he had as a rookie while not making the repeated on-ice mistakes he made last season (long, bad passes), not to mention correct some off-ice mistakes (no doubt, stay on the right side of being confident, as coach John Tortorella might put it). “I’m not going to be given ice time because of what I did my rookie year on the power play.”

Del Zotto knowing his place coming into camp will help him more than anything. Knowing that Tortorella already has a bunch of guys he feels comfortable with on the blue line means he knows he’s going to have to prove his worth. Del Zotto has the skills to be a very good offensive defenseman and at 21 years-old he’s plenty young to keep growing into his position and still has plenty to learn.

As it is, the Rangers set up with virtually the same guys they had last season on defense. Staal, Girardi, Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, and Steve Eminger are all back meaning there’s an opening in the top six for someone to grab on to. Del Zotto will be in the hunt as will summer rookie trade acquisition Tim Erixon with fellow youngster Brendan Bell with an outside shot.

The Rangers will be looking to up their offensive output this season with Brad Richards now in town to help spur that on. If Del Zotto can harness that offensive touch he had in his rookie season and pair that up with smarter play and defensive responsibility, he can help the Rangers establish themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

More details emerge re: Isles’ arena plans

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 06:  A sign is seen at Belmont Park on June 6, 2014 in Elmont, New York.  On Saturday, June 7, California Chrome will attempt to win the triple crown with a win in the Belmont Stakes.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Big day for NHL arena news.

First came a report out of Arizona that the Coyotes’ public financing plans could be in trouble.

Now comes another report that the New York Islanders may have a solution to their Barclays Center problem.

From Bloomberg:

A supergroup of New York sports executives, including owners of the New York Rangers and the New York Mets, is lining up to invest in a new arena just outside of Queens for the National Hockey League’s Islanders, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The new arena proposal is a joint venture between the Islanders, Oak View Group and Sterling Project Development, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because the talks are private. James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co., which controls the Rangers, long the Islanders hated rivals, is an investor in Oak View Group, the private equity group run by Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff. The Wilpon family, which owns the Mets, controls Sterling Project Development. 

Bloomberg notes that NHL owners are allowed to “have a stake in another club’s arena,” so Dolan’s involvement shouldn’t be an issue with the league.

Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed last month that the Isles’ owners were exploring their options beyond the team’s current home in Brooklyn.

“The owners are committed to the franchise, they’re committed to New York and the great fan base that has followed the Islanders,” said Bettman. “There are some issues about playing in Barclays that may be fundamental as to the ice system, and that’s not something that can be fixed in the short term. I think, as is prudent, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking very seriously at what their options are.”

According to Bloomberg, the current focus is on a site at Belmont Park in Elmont. For more on that, read Newsday’s story from July.

Related: Tim Leiweke could play role in redevelopment of Seattle’s KeyArena

Neuvirth ‘scared’ Flyers will trade him at deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 24: Goalie Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the Washington Capitals during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Washington Capitals won, 1-0. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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At the 2014 trade deadline, Michal Neuvirth was traded from Washington to Buffalo.

One year later, the Sabres flipped him to the Isles.

So it’s understandable, then, that Neuvirth — a pending unrestricted free agent — is plenty worried the Flyers might ship him out by next Wednesday.

“For sure, I’m scared,” Neuvirth said, per the Courier-Post. “The last three deadlines I’ve been traded twice. For sure, I’m scared, yes.”

The 28-year-old is probably right to be frightened. With an affordable $1.625 million cap hit and a history of solid stretches — including last year, when he went 18-8-4 with a .924 save percentage and 2.27 GAA — Neuvirth is a classic “upgrade your backup” option.

Like in 2015, when Isles GM Garth Snow wanted an improvement on Chad Johnson.

“Chad played some very good games for us over the course of the season,” Snow said at the time, per the Daily News. “But seeing Michal Neuvirth performing, especially in the last 30 days playing at an extremely high level, obviously goaltenders are hard to get in the NHL and the Eastern Conference.

“It was an opportunity for us to make a move and get a little better at the position.”

For a playoff-bound team, Neuvirth is a tantalizing add. His career postseason numbers are excellent — .933 save percentage over 13 appearances, with a pair of shutouts. (Yes, it’s a relatively small sample size.)

He was also terrific in last year’s opening-round loss to Washington, stopping 103 of 105 shots faced.

As for the Flyers, they’re in a precarious situation, sitting five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’d need to leapfrog Florida, Boston and the Isles to get there, and GM Ron Hextall hasn’t publicly identified himself as a buyer or seller.

What’s more, Hextall doesn’t want to address his goalie situation until the offseason. Steve Mason‘s a pending UFA as well, and there’s some believe neither will be back with Philly next year.

As for landing spots, one has to wonder if Boston will kick tires on Neuvirth. GM Don Sweeney said the club could try to solve its longstanding backup goalie problem at the deadline.

Report: Coyotes’ arena financing plan in trouble

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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More bad news for the Arizona Coyotes in their quest to build a new arena and remain in the Phoenix area.

From the Arizona Republic:

A plan that would provide $225 million in public financing for a new $395 million Arizona Coyotes arena likely does not have the votes to pass the state Senate, key lawmakers told The Arizona Republic/azcentral Thursday.

Sens. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said they definitely were going to vote against the plan, while Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said there is little support among the chamber’s 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he had “serious reservations” about the plan that would allow the National Hockey League team to build an arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

It would take at least 16 votes to pass Senate Bill 1149 in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have a 17-13 advantage. Statements from those lawmakers make it appear unlikely that there is enough support to move the plan to the House.

A vote before the full Senate could occur next week.

The financing plan is being championed by Sen. Bob Worsley, a Republican.

“I’m not a hockey fan but I’m a business guy and I want to save any business of this magnitude from leaving and impacting thousands of jobs,” Worsley said earlier this month, per Arizona Sports. “We would go out of our way in the Legislature to see what we could do if there was a company considering leaving so it’s appropriate to say, ‘what can we do to help?’”

In light of today’s news, Worsley’s words do not bode well for the Coyotes, who have no intention of remaining in Glendale long term.

The team, still holding out hope, told the Republic, “There are a lot of moving parts in this legislative process and everything is malleable and open for discussion until the very end. We will continue to educate lawmakers about a complex project that creates a true public-private partnership and offers the Coyotes an economically viable solution to remain in the Valley for the long term.”

Related: Coyotes still ‘pretty confident’ of finding an arena solution

Weather forecast looks good for Penguins-Flyers

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Fireworks go off before the start of the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh set a new weather record today, with temperatures reaching a summer-like 76 degrees.

But it’s supposed to cool down considerably tomorrow, with only a chance of showers during the day — good news with the Penguins and Flyers set to play outdoors at Heinz Field.

Game time tomorrow is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET (on NBC).

“It’ll be fun, and what the weather is, because it’s unpredictable, is one of the great intriguing parts of putting on these games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a radio interview, per the Post-Gazette.

The last time the Penguins played outdoors at Heinz Field, in the 2011 Winter Classic, the threat of rain forced the start time from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tomorrow’s forecast from The Weather Network:

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Related: How to watch and stream Penguins-Flyers outdoor game