Berube talks Del Zotto, adjusting Flyers' defense

Berube talks Del Zotto, adjusting Flyers' defense
August 6, 2014, 9:00 am
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Michael Del Zotto (right) was once one of the most prized young defensemen in the league. It will be Craig Berube's job to get him back to that level. (USA Today Images)

Training camp for the Flyers won’t open until mid-September, but already coach Craig Berube has some major readjusting to do with his blue line.

Tuesday’s shocker -- Kimmo Timonen is out indefinitely with multiple blood clots -- left the Flyers without their top defenseman on a blue line already a tad old and too slow.

By nightfall, general manager Ron Hextall had signed Michael Del Zotto to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

That kind of contract screams prove yourself again, and we’ll talk long term.

Yet it also set into motion what Berube must do moving forward more than a month before training camp opens in adjusting his defensive pairs.

“He has lots of skill, speed,” Berube said of the 24-year-old Del Zotto. “He gets up in the play offensively. [He] worked the power play before in New York. He has a lot of skill.”

Berube’s first order of business now is figuring out where Del Zotto fits.

Timonen spent nearly all last season -- and most of his Flyers career -- paired with Braydon Coburn.

Berube tried Coburn with Andrew MacDonald at Pittsburgh late in the season and was intrigued by what he saw. That could be a pair to start the season.

“MacDonald and Coburn played together some games last year and I really liked what I saw there as a shutdown pair,” Berube said.

“[Mark] Streit and [Nick] Grossmann played together for quite some time. We’ll see. Maybe with Luke Schenn. Just going into camp you’ve got to look at some combinations and see what looks good.”

So for starters, Berube seems inclined to use Del Zotto with Schenn. He wants a stay-at-home defenseman with a mobile player on every pair. Nick Schultz is the sixth man going into camp.

“I always like a puck mover with a stay-at-home guy, but there are always games when we put two big guys together,” Berube said.

The loss of Timonen can’t be downplayed. His play on the ice, his leadership in the dressing room, his work on the power play, etc. Even at age 39 with declining skills, the Flyers will miss Timonen.

“Definitely, I know what we will miss without Kimmo,” Berube said. “We’re obviously concerned with Kimmo’s health. That is always first and foremost. We wish a good recovery and see him get back on the ice. His health is first.

“I can’t sit there and worry about Kimmo not being on the ice. Just get better. He’s been a great Flyer, but the most important thing is his health and not hockey.”

Del Zotto is not in Timonen’s caliber. He was a rising, young star when he came into the NHL in 2009 with the Rangers. Since then, Del Zotto’s stock has dropped dramatically.

He played parts of five seasons on Broadway with 26 goals and 95 assists for 121 points in 292 games. His breakout year was 2011-12 with 10 goals and 41 points in 77 games, while earning a plus-20 rating.

Much like with the signing of goalie Steve Mason back in April 2013, the Flyers see this as a fresh beginning for Del Zotto with a chance to earn a better contract in the future.

“Absolutely,” Berube agreed.

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