The New Jersey Devils announced today they signed center Travis Zajac to a long term contract.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello made the announcement today during the team’s scrimmage with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Albany Devils. Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but its been reported it is an eight year, $46 million contract. It’s an annual $5.75 million cap hit and includes a full no-trade clause.
The eight-year deal is the longest allowable under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Zajac was entering the final season of a four-year, $15.5 million contract he signed as a restricted free agent in 2009. He was scheduled to make $4.48 million (prorated for the lockout) this season.
The Devils center will make $3.5 million in the first year of the contract. That number jumps to $5 million in the second season. From years three to six, he will make $6.5 million. His salary drops to $5.75 million for the final two years of the contract.
Lamoriello said both sides were working on an extension before the lockout began and completed it this week.
Zajac missed most of the regular season last year recovering from a torn Achillies tendon, an injury that occurred during offseason workouts. He played just 15 regular season games, recording two goals and four assists. He fully recovered by time the postseason rolled around, and became a key contributor for the Devils, netting 14 points (7g, 7a) in 24 playoff games.
He was drafted 20th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2004. He has 91 goals and 164 assists in 423 regular season NHL games. Of the 19 players selected before him in the draft, only three (Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Andrew Ladd) have more career points.
Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will take an in-depth look at the Devils’ 2010-2011 schedule. New Jersey has made the postseason 13 times in a row, winning the Atlantic Division and finishing second in the Eastern Conference last season. This year, the team will look to continue it’s impressive playoff streak while maintaining their place among the best in the conference. I’ve already previewed two opponents – the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals – and today we preview a well-known rival – the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Penguins vs. Devils – Historical Data
The Devils are 97-80-17-2 in 196 regular season games against the Penguins. The Devils average 3.40 goals for against Pittsburgh, while allowing 3.33 goals against. The Devils’ owned the Penguins last year, sweeping the regular season series. In their first meeting of the season, on October 24, 2009, rookie Mark Fraser recorded his first NHL to put the Devils ahead, 1-0. In the second period, another Devils’ rookie, Niclas Bergfors, doubled the lead with a powerplay goal. Travis Zajac and Zach Parise scored third period goals, and the Devils defeated the Penguins, 4-1.
On November 12, the Devils once again beat the Penguins, 4-1. Ruslan Fedotenko gave the Penguins a first period lead, but the Devils scored four unanswered goals to win the game. Zajac tallied three assists in the victory.
The Devils next victory, a 4-0 win on December 21, carried historical significance. Martin Brodeur, tied for the most shutouts in NHL history with Terry Sawchuk, passed the goalie with the victory. Brodeur finished with 35 saves for the victory. Brodeur again shut out the Penguins nine days later, helping backstop the Devils to a 2-0 victory. Bergfors scored a goal at 1:48 of the first period, and Brodeur’s 32 saves made that tally stand throughout the game. Jamie Langenbrunner added an empty-net, shorthanded goal at 19:48 of the third to ice the victory.
The Devils once again defeated the Penguins, 3-1, on March 12, 2010. Patrik Elias and Sidney Crosby scored first period goals, and the teams were tied until the third period. Andy Greene scored the game-winning goal at 2:06 of the period, and Ilya Kovalchuk added an insurance goal at 9:59 of the period.
The Devils completed the series sweep on March 17, defeating the Penguins, 5-2. New Jersey wore their “throwback” jerseys, going with the red, green and white jerseys. After Chris Kunitz gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 4:01 of the first period, the Devils scored four unanswered goals – including Paul Martin’s first goal of the season – to take the lead, 4-1. Fedetenko made it a two goal game at 5:23 of the third period, but the Devils held off the Penguins. Rob Niedermayer added an empty-netter for insurance in the win.
Penguins vs. Devils – This Season’s Matchup
The Penguins and Devils will again face-off six times this season. The first game should be the most interesting, as ex-Devil Martin, who signed with Pittsburgh this off-season, returns to The Rock on October 11. The Penguins, who were upset by the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs, boast a deeper blue line with the additions of Martin and Zbynek Michalek. The team also features Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two of the best scorers in the league.
What’s even more interesting is that half the team’s games this season come in March and April. Those late games will have a huge impact on the standings, and they could decide who wins the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings.
Fraser scored three goals last year, and all came against the Penguins…Parise recorded 7 points (three goals, four assists) against the Penguins…While playing for the Devils, Bergfors scored three goals against the Penguins – two via the powerplay…The Devils’ held Crosby to two points (one goal, one assist) last season.
In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lead the Atlantic Division with 95 points. The defending champions have had an up and downseason, including dropping all six games to the Devils. Can the defending champions repeat their performance and hoist Lord Stanley again?
When healthy, the Penguins have arguably the best two lines in the N.H.L. The top two centers, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, consistently rank near the top of the league in scoring. As of today, Sidney Crosby leads the scoring race, tallying 47 goals. But it’s not only the top two lines who can score. Jordan Staal continues to improve year in and year out, and has 21 goals on the season. Deadline day acquisition Alex Ponikarovsky can move the puck and set up teammates, leading to his 29 assists. And he plays on the fourth line. This depth is one of the strengths of the Penguins. Good scorers, like Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, fly under the radar because of their depth. I believe that, without a doubt, the Penguins arguably the best depth among their forwards, ranking with Washington atop the conference.
The blueline is where things get interesting. Sergei Gonchar, one of the Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, has only played in 57 games this season. Gonchar, who’s one of the leaders on the powerplay, has far underperformed the team’s expectations. After finishing sixth in goals against last season, they’re currently ranked in the 20th. Kris Letang has taken a backseat this year, and the rest of the defense is underwhelming. They also don’t have a big, physical presence on the blueline. The Penguins lack of depth could hurt them in the playoffs. They’re going to lean on their forwards to succeed, and this strategy isn’t the best.
Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the solid goaltenders in the N.H.L. In 62 games, Fleury is 35-19-6, with a 2.65 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Fleury can always make the great save, and his presence in net brings a calming influence to the defensive zone. In the past few years, he’s began to deal with injuries. It seems that Fleury is good for at least one injury per season, which is an added worry in the playoffs. When healthy, Fleury can steal the Penguins a few games. But he needs to remain healthy to give the Penguins an added edge.
So, what can we expect from the Penguins come playoff time? The team is going to play hard, gritty hockey. They’re forwards are clearly the strength, but they do have questions along the blueline. They’ve also struggled against the top teams, losing all six games to the Devils and struggling against the Capitals. Not only that, but significant players have missed time with injury. But they are the defending champions, and the will still be champs until someone knocks them out of the playoffs. Even with their problems, Pittsburgh will be a tough opponent in any playoff series.