Zajac Signed; Salvador Named Captain
A few days ago, the New Jersey Devils announced the signing of first-line center, Travis Zajac, to an 8 year deal worth 46 million dollars (an annual average value of 5.75 million). Here is the breakdown of his contract (courtesy of mynhltraderumors.com): 2013-14: $3.5 million salary with $1 million bonus, 2014-15: $5 million salary with $1 million bonus, 2015-16: $6.5 million, 2016-17: $6.5 million, 2017-18: $6.5 million, 2018-19: $6.5 million, 2019-20: $5.75 million and 2020-21: $5.75 million.
Main stream media outlets and hockey “gurus” all over the world are questioning this recent Lou Lamoriello signing. Without proper knowledge of Zajac’s style of play, they would have every right to criticize this deal; after all, Zajac has only broken the 60 point mark twice in five full seasons with the Devils. But it isn’t the point totals that makes Zajac such an assest to the Devils; its the work he puts in to perfecting the little details of the game. Heck, there may be no one in the league better at stripping an opposing forward while on the backcheck, then reading the play to turn it immediately up ice than Zajac. His reads on the forecheck to break up the opposing team’s breakout is tops on the team (now that Zach Parise is gone anyway). The guy plays on the first PP and PK unit, hasn’t been lower than 50% on his face-off draws since his rookie campaign, and has some of the slickest moves along the boards in the offensive zone that I’ve ever seen. When people think of a guy making an average salary of nearly 6 million dollars, they expect production; usually in the form of putting points on the board at a near point per game level. While Zajac may not be a prototypical point per game center, the intangibles he brings to the Devils is eerily similar to that of Zach Parise, which is no surprise considering the two developed under the same North Dakota system. Zajac isn’t a prototypical NHL first line center; but he is, as Lou Lamoriello put it, a “typical New Jersey Devil”. In a few years from now, NHL analysts will be looking back on this deal with a completely different frame of mind. This was an excellent signing and a must need for the Devils because losing two of your top line players in back to back years is a no-no in General Managing 101. With fellow centers Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson still in their maturing stage of their NHL careers, the Devils depth at center looks promising.
Shifting focus here, one of the hottest topics of the summer/lockout was who would take over for Zach Parise as the Devils next captain. Kovalchuk was the obvious choice considering his length of contract, his super-star status on the team, his “face of the franchise” capability, and just the simple fact he has captained every team he has ever played on. Dark horse candidates for the ‘C’ were guys like Bryce Salvador, Travis Zajac, and even the only guy on the team who seemingly didn’t want to be captain, Patrik Elias. But then came the signature ‘Kovalchuk drama’ where main stream media outlets everywhere were questioning whether or not Ilya wanted to leave his KHL team to return for the start of the NHL season. Though there was never any question in this fans mind that he’d return, there were signs that the organization did not appreciate Kovalchuk’s lack of directness with what his intentions were. Elias was even quoted (paraphrased here) as saying that he was not a fan of Kovalchuk arriving late to camp because ‘they were all expected to arrive for the start of camp, why shouldn’t he?’. That right there is the sole reason I believe Kovalchuk wasn’t named captain. He lost some faith in the locker room and that’s something the captain can’t lose. The captain is a model player; one who every single guy in the locker room respects, admires, and tries to act like. Bryce Salvador is that type of player. If you missed out on my Salvadorian analysis in my last blog, then shame on you cause I’m not giving you a second chance. Fine, you caught me in a good mood; I’ll explain.
Personally, I always thought Salvador was more than qualified to captain this team. He’s well respected by his teammates, the coaches, and upper management. He plays the game the right way: blocks shots, throws big hits, lays his body on the line every night. Salvador is the kind of player you want to model your game after. His three year contract was the main reason I didn’t think about the possibility that Pete DeBoer would name Bryce captain. But truthfully, a players contract doesn’t determine his leadership qualities. Salvador will lead, and these Devils will follow. Great choice DeBoer.
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