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Rumor Roundup: Del Zotto done with the Rangers?

The New York Rangers seem to have overcome their poor start, but the same cannot be said for defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

The 23-year-old blueliner is still struggling under new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. With only four points in 16 games, he’s on pace for 20 points this season, well short of his career best (41) in 2011-12.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post recently suggested Del Zotto “assuredly could be had” on the trade market, but believes the Blueshirts would in return want a defenseman capable of playing 19-or-more minute on the right side.

Brooks noted the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers are desperate to make deals, but none of them appear a match for Del Zotto. Those clubs need skilled “stay-at-home” blueliners while Del Zotto is a puck-moving defenseman.

Del Zotto is in the final year of his contract and becomes a restricted free agent – with arbitration rights – this summer. His contentious negotiations with GM Glen Sather over his current contract casts some doubt over his future with the Rangers.

Should Del Zotto’s current struggles continue, he could be shopped near the March trade deadline.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reported the Dallas Stars were shopping center Vernon Fiddler, who’s due to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

Garrioch claimed the Toronto Maple Leafs expressed interest in Fiddler but lacked the cap space to take on his $1.8-million salary.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie subsequently reported Fiddler, 33, approached Stars management two weeks ago to say if he couldn’t get a larger role with the Stars he’d prefer to be dealt to a club where he’d get that opportunity.

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With the Stars playing better of late, McKenzie said they’re in no rush to trade Fiddler, whose salary is tough to move right now. Stars coach Lindy Ruff declined to comment on the rumors, but said he’d have “really good conversations” with Fiddler about his role and praised his professionalism.

If Fiddler presses the issue it could take until mid-season at the earliest for a trade, as by that point the Stars will have paid half his salary.

Garrioch also believes Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen is a good bet to be moved this season, claiming GM Ray Shero was “sniffing around” to gauge the blueliner’s trade value.

Niskanen, 26, is earning $2.5 million with a cap hit of $2.3 million. Like Fiddler, he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer.

Having re-signed Kris Letang last summer, Garrioch doubted the Penguins have room to ink Niskanen, who could fetch the Penguins a good return on the trade market.

Niskanen, however, was stellar filling in for the injured Letang earlier this season. Given Letang’s injury history, Shero could retain Niskanen as insurance and worry about his free agent status following the playoffs.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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