All GM’s are scrutinized when they give out long-term contracts. The same will go for New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello as he handed out a eight-year, $46 million contract to center Travis Zajac on Wednesday afternoon. There are several pluses to this as well as some negatives. Overall, I like this move for the Devils.
For one, this contract length is absolutely perfect. Zajac will be 28 by the time this year ends. Then his extension will kick in that takes him through the 2020-21 season. When his contract runs out, he will be 36. Lou has been known to make some quirky deals when it comes to all types of different players.
He signed goons and tough guys like Andrew Peters and Eric Boulton to MULTI-year deals. He signed veteran Brian Rolston a few years ago through the age of 39. We all remember the deals he dished out right after the 2004-05 lockout. He inked Vladimir Malakhov, who was 37 to a two-year contract that would have taken him to the age of 38. Alexander Mogilny was also signed for a pair of years at the age of 36 until he would have been 38. So this is one of the better deals Lou has made, in that Zajac will just start to hit the downside of his career by the time this pact expires.
Another big reason this is a good signing, is that there are very, very few forwards on the roster for next year. Ilya Kovalchuk, Zajac, Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Krys Barch are the only guys under contract for 2013-14. Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson are all free agents. Think about it this way, with Zach Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Petr Sykora leaving, that’s essentially a whole line of scoring the Devils will have to replace. Now, let’s say Zubrus, Elias and Clarkson jet elsewhere this offseason.
That would essentially make this past season’s fourth line…THEIR SECOND LINE. Now, we know there are some restricted free agents who they will keep for 2013-14, especially stud center Adam Henrique. After that though, there’s not that many must-keep RFAs currently on the Devils roster. That’s why signing Zajac was important; you retain a piece for next year’s club and secondly, you hope that the other Devil lifers in Clarkson and Elias back fall into place too. Then the offseason can begin from there. Lou doesn’t negotiate often during the season, but hopefully he has some preliminary discussions with Clarkson and Elias so he doesn’t get burned by them come July.
Maybe perhaps the biggest positive of this signing is where the franchise is at financially. A year ago at this time, there were a lot of questions regarding their financial stature. Minority owners were looking to sell their stake because of the team’s debt. The team was asking for revenue payments in advance from the league. Then just a few weeks ago, the Devils re-financed their debt to make Jeff Vanderbeek the sole owner. Then…boom…$46 million to be paid to No. 19. That speaks volumes to me. That not only are the Devils finances stable, but ownership is ready to spend to keep this team at a Stanley Cup contending level. Hopefully that means deals for Henrique, Elias, Clarkson and others to re-stack this roster.
The one downside to me is that his cap number becomes pretty high at $5.75 million. That said, the team owns plenty of cap space to work with during this upcoming summer. It’s not like they are strapped to create room for players. Consider this; centers are in high demand every summer and the free agent market depth for that position is normally thin. What does that mean? They’re likely to be overpaid. So while it appears the Devils may overpay a bit now, in two or three years, that deal may look like a great value compared to center men that other teams will sign over the next several offseasons.
Overall, this appears to be a pretty good deal for the Devils. I’m sure I can speak for a majority of Devils fans that we love players who commit to this franchise for the long-term. In the grand landscape of the NHL, the Devils franchise is a baby. There are a lot of other teams who have been around longer than them. Up until last postseason, the fans/attendance had bad reputations. So taking an unbiased look at things, why would someone WANT to play in New Jersey? They could go to a big city market like Philly or New York. They could head out to big-time hockey towns like Detroit or Chicago. So why New Jersey?
I think they appreciate what the Devils are building. They could go to those aforementioned cities and be a fan favorite for a short period of time. With a lesser-historic team like the Devils, an elite player can make his legend. When his contract is through, he will have played 15 seasons for the Devils. It’s not out of the question that his number will hang from the rafters one day. That’s the appeal of being a Devil for life. He is playing for a fanbase that will recall his name for generations to come and an organization committed to loyalty and winning. That’s why the Travis Zajac deal is a great one; because he is committed to giving everything he’s got in his soul for the New Jersey Devils.