Perhaps the most endearing thing a hockey player can do (outside of scoring goals) is to sacrifice his body for the good of the team; shot-blocking and throwing hits are surefire ways to the heart of any red-blooded hockey fan.
Over the last two seasons, Greg Zanon has earned just such affection from the Predators faithful, with his tireless, workmanlike game. His 237 Blocked Shots were 3rd in the NHL this year (after placing 7th and 8th in each of the previous two campaigns), and his 153 Hits were 2nd on the team behind Shea Weber. As he heads for unrestricted free agency this summer, however, the early indications are that negotiations with the Predators are proceeding slowly, if at all.
As the team deals with a number of players requiring new contracts, how does Zanon fit into the mix?
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This season Zanon's role grew from being a 3rd-pair guy into a more prominent combo with Dan Hamhuis on the second unit, and it appears that the greater ice time (over 16 minutes a game, 4th among the Nashville D) was well earned. The following table shows the basic Behind the Net data for the Nashville defense this season, sorted by Goals Against/60 Minutes:
Greg de Vries
Zanon's shot-blocking definitely helped keep that GA number down, but the nagging concern that lingers here is the total lack of offensive contribution. The Corsi column, which shows per 60 minutes of play the balance of Total Shots For & Against, is strongly negative for Zanon, meaning that while he's on the ice the opponent is firing almost 10 more shots than the Preds are, per hour of 5-on-5.
Out of 197 NHL defensemen with at least 40 GP and 10 minutes of 5-on-5 per game, that Corsi number is 30th-worst. That's not tragically awful, but it definitely qualifies as playing with fire.
At least Zanon does his work without drawing an undue amount of penalties; his Penalty Plus/Minus of -9 is a respectable figure for a defenseman playing heavy minutes, and compares favorably to most of his fellow blueliners.
While the goals and assists were few and far between, Zanon did pop in the game winner against San Jose on March 26, capping off a spirited Nashville comeback:
With a grand total of 6 minutes and 47 seconds on the power play this year, Zanon's a non-factor here.
Given Zanon's characterization as a stay-at-home, hard-working defenseman, one would think that the PK would be his strong suit. This year, however, Zanon's 4-on-5 results took a huge turn for the worse:
That Goals Against of 6.57/60 minutes is more than double the rate given up by Greg de Vries and Ryan Suter. The concern here is that particularly on the penalty kill when an opponent has the time and space to set up a play, Zanon's zeal to block shots makes him a predictable defender; talented teams can goad him down to the ice, creating a dangerous chance once he's out of position. Notice how his "Blocked Shots For" number jumped this season, just as his Goals Against did?
All in all, I see Zanon as a decent 3rd-pair defenseman, given his limited offensive skillset. It doesn't appear that anything is going to change on that front in the future, however, so expanding his role beyond shutdown 5-on-5 and PK work is out of the question. While his shot-blocking and hitting are admirable for the commitment he regularly demonstrates to the team, that shot-blocking can be a problem at times, and there's precious little evidence to date that dishing out lots of hits actually helps win hockey games. In puttting a team together on a budget, I just can't see paying a guy like that more than $1.5 million or so per season.
Another team, however, attracted to those Shot Blocking and Hits numbers, might shell out much more than that in a move to bolster their blueline, and use a guy like Jay McKee (currently making $4 million/year) as a point of comparison. If Zanon appears to be garnering interest above the $2 million/year mark, and I'm David Poile, I give Zanon a hearty handshake and wish him the best of luck going forward.