With MOU Signed And Lockout Over, Ranger's Focus Turns To Del Zotto

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

The NHL lockout is officially over, meaning Michael Del Zotto is the next issue the Rangers have to tackle.

This story was written Saturday night.

At around 10:30 Saturday night the NHL and NHLPA finally put their ink on the paperwork that officially ended the 2012 NHL lockout. For fans who were following and reporters who were reporting, Saturday went very much like the lockout itself. Lots of waiting, no real news and a very late finish.

Two hours after the memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed, all NHL action was open for business. That means that Glen Sather and company have officially turned their crosshairs to unsigned RFA Michael Del Zotto.

As I've mentioned before, the lockout helped overshadow the state of these negotiations. Basically, things have gone pretty poorly from the get-go. Right before the lockout began (remember those days?) Sather went on record as saying that Del Zotto would eventually "come to his senses." Del Zotto has since been quoted as saying he wants a "fair" deal.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post has reported that the two sides are far apart on dollar figures. Del Zotto is looking for a long-term deal in the $3-4 Million range, while Sather has reportedly offered him a two-year $5-million ($2.5 million a year) contract.

While the MOU was being hammered out, the two sides were permitted to negotiate, with the understanding that nothing could be formally announced until the MOU was finished. Because of that, Del Zotto was allowed to participate in the Rangers informal skates -- which he smartly did.

But now that the lockout is a thing of the past, Del Zotto is officially bound towards being a holdout. Camp starts on Sunday, and if Del Zotto hasn't agreed to a contract by the time the first official practice starts, he will not be welcome to skate with the team.

You can see where the plot just thickened.

Both sides know what a danger this is. Del Zotto made massive improvements last year, and despite the criticism he got (and still gets) from Rangers fans, I see him as a critical part of this team. You can agree or disagree all you want, but the Rangers' primary goal is to get him under contract.

Right now, both sides know that it would be a bad thing for him to miss any part of this shortened camp. It also wouldn't do well to put himself in John Tortorella's dog house early (especially after he earned his respect in the playoffs).

Another day, another deadline. We should be used to this by now.

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