With their financial issues apparently behind them, the New Jersey Devils signed Travis Zajac to an eight-year, 46-million dollar contract extension. The deal carries the maximum number of years available under the NHL’s new CBA. Zajac had a cap hit under four million dollars in his last deal, but his new extension carries an annual hit of nearly six million. The deal is an extremely aggressive commitment by the Devils, but a lengthy contract extension is exactly what Travis Zajac deserves.
Before succumbing to the injury that cost him most of last season, Travis Zajac set the New Jersey Devils’ franchise record for consecutive games played. The Devils’ iron man came back from injury to provide a boost to the Devils during their Stanley Cup run last season. With Zajac back on the ice, New Jersey ended the season on a six-game winning streak and defeated Atlantic Division rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Zajac’s leadership, face off skill, scoring, and two-way play helped balance the Devils and propel them through the playoffs. Zajac is a top-line center and will be a cornerstone of Devils success for years to come.
After losing last year’s captain to free agency, the looming expiration of Travis Zajac’s contract combined with a steeply declining salary cap next season to form a worrisome scenario for Devils fans. The news of a maximum-length deal for New Jersey’s top-line center shows that the tumultuous financial situation in ownership could be behind the franchise for good, and that the front office is willing to spend money to keep their best players on the roster. Zajac got the contract he deserved, and the Devils locked up their top-line center for the rest of the decade.
Still, signing Travis Zajac to such a large contract poses various problems moving forward. Zajac will feel a new kind of pressure to perform as his new deal comes with high expectations. Additionally, the salary cap is slated to fall steeply in coming years after the NHL launched an assault on player money during the lockout. With Ilya Kovalchuk already signed to a big contract, the Devils will have difficulty circumventing the cap going forward while maintaining a full, talented roster. David Clarkson is coming off a career year and looking for a new contract as he is in the last season of his current deal. Adam Larsson, Adam Henrique, and other prospects will need big deals of their own during the life of Zajac’s new contract, and committing to Zajac severely limits the money available to resign young Devils stars.
In the end, Travis Zajac got the deal he deserved but it is not without obvious consequences. The contract extension will have a significant impact on the New Jersey Devils franchise going forward, but locking up a top-line center provides stability to an organization that was desperately craving it. The Devils may have slightly overpaid to lock up Zajac, but after a miserable offseason the contract extension was the right move.