Travis Zajac is no doubt the number one center on the New Jersey Devils. He is also their highest paid player. When word came out that he was the first player to sign a max length contract under the new CBA, many analysts spoke of how it was a message that the team will not let their players walk away. It was said to be a message to David Clarkson that they are willing to pay their homegrown players. It was said to show that money would not get in the way of re-signing their best players with the ownership situation up in the air.
Was it a mistake? Statistically, Zajac has not been a dominant player since the 2009-10 season. Last season he scored seven goals in 48 games, and the season before he only played in 15 games. The 2010-11 season saw his production drop 23 points. He is being paid as their best player, and he simply has not played like he is. Patrick Elias is eight years his senior and he is severely outplaying him. Adam Henrique is going to come into his third season and he has already surpassed him. Andrei Loktionov came to the team for a fifth round pick and he had around the same points per game last season. Zajac needs to show he is worth the money.
He was still a good defensive forward. He spent the most time on a penalty kill that ranked right in the middle of the league. He can spend a ton of time on the ice, ranking second among forwards last season. He wins a good percentage of his faceoffs, leading the team among centers with 57.4 percent. He has not had a shooting percentage above 8.5 percent over the last three years, which represents a run of bad luck against his career average. His line just could not put his passes home posting shooting percentages that were under six percent, which attributed to his low assist totals.
Zajac is 28 years old. He should be playing in the prime of his career. He seemed to feel the pressure of his contract last year as he passed the puck away more than shooting it. He shot the puck 82 times, which would translate to 140 times in an 82-game season. His most productive seasons he was shooting the puck between 185-210 times in the season. He needs to have confidence in his shot if he wants to going back to being a 20-goal scorer.
Barring a trade, Zajac will be wearing a Devils sweater until 2021. He has the skill to turn around his rough three year stretch, and he is going to have a full offseason to get chemistry with his line. He has new offensive weapons in Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Jaromir Jagr that he gets to play with. His skills to push the offense forward will really help this Devils team in their fight for the playoffs. He gets to have more practices in between games to fix any issues his line and himself need to address which will help him play much better. He may not end up being worth the $48 million that he ended up signing for, but it will not be as obvious as it has been since he signed the deal.