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Devils Sign Travis Zajac To Eight Year, $46 Million Contract

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment
The New Jersey Devils re-signed center Travis Zajac to an eight-year contract today. The center had 14 points in the team's run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

The New Jersey Devils re-signed center Travis Zajac to an eight-year contract today. The center had 14 points in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

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.

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Devils 2011-12 Schedule Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Mattias Tedenby played hero on the February 8 matchup, scoring two goals en route to a 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The mention of the Carolina Hurricanes still paints a painful picture in the minds of every New Jersey Devils’ fan. Just two short years ago, the Carolina scored two goals in 80 seconds to knock New Jersey out of the playoffs. Since then, New Jersey hasn’t found success in the playoffs. Their meetings, however, are definitely more heated.

The ‘Canes came up just short of the playoffs last season, missing out by one point. The Devils helped hold them back, winning three of four against them. Carolina lost one of the faces of their franchise, but has another upcoming. Always a playoff contender, the Devils will once again face a tough test against their southern rivals.

The History Behind The Matchup

In 113 meetings, New Jersey is 58-41-2 with 12 ties against Carolina. They’ve averaged 3.19 goals for during the head-to-head matchup (360 total) and only allow 2.96 goals against per meeting (335 total). They’re the only opponent that’s played over 100 games against the Devils and averaged less than three goals per game.

The Devils and Canes squared off four times last season, all between January and February. Carolina took the first meeting, 6-3, on New Year’s Day in Raleigh. Tuomo Ruutu opened the scoring, finding the back of the net on the powerplay just 1:48 into the first period. Jeff Skinner made it 2-0 at 4:28 of the opening frame, and Sergei Samsonov stretched the lead to three with a powerplay tally at the eight minute mark. The goal chased Martin Brodeur, who recorded just four saves. The two teams traded scores later in the period, and Carolina entered the break ahead 4-1.

The scoring wouldn’t end there. Travis Zajac scored 49 seconds into the second period, closing the gap to 4-2. Samsonov would score another powerplay goal, this one at 8:42 of the middle frame, to put the lead back to three. The teams traded goals again in the third, ending the game in a Hurricanes win. Ruutu added insult to injury, recording four points in just that game.

The Devils evened the season series, winning 3-2 in overtime on February 8 at the Prudential Center. Skinner opened the scoring in the second period, converting on a powerplay at 9:22 for a 1-0 lead. It was a short-lived lead. Mattias Tedenby tied the game, 1-1, at 11:31 of the middle frame. Skinner put his team ahead, 2-1, on yet another powerplay goal, this at 8:37 of the third period. Another Devils rookie, Nick Palmieri, tied the game at two at 17:06 of the final frame. It would be a rookie playing hero in overtime for the win:

Johan Hedberg stopped 20 shots for the win. Cam Ward stopped 31 shots in the loss.

Just eight days later, the two teams squared off again at the Prudential Center. The Devils skated away with another 3-2 win. Ilya Kovalchuk broke a scoreless tie at 5:41 of the second period. They extended their lead quickly in the third period, with Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias scoring in the opening two minutes to push the lead to 3-0. Carolina mounted a comeback, with Samsonov ending Hedberg’s shutout at 8:17 of the final period. Ruutu scored at 19:55 to pull the teams within one. That’s as close as they would get. Hedberg stopped 25 shots in the win, and Ward stopped 19 in the loss.

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Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth – Center

Anderson led all Albany centers in points and represented them at the AHL All-Star game. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink/Times Union

The New Jersey Devils stockpiled impressive depth up the middle. The team’s brimming with talent, and many players are ready to take the next step to the NHL.

Travis Zajac leads the brigade, firmly entrenched as the team’s top center. Patrik Elias, a converted left-winger, seems destined to finish his career as the team’s number two center. Jacob Josefson‘s solid rookie debut will undoubtedly lead to a roster spot next season. Rod Pelley will look to fend off Adam Henrique, Tim Sestito, and others for a spot on the roster.

That talent flows right down into Albany. Seven of Albany’s top ten scorers were centerman, an astounding number that shows the true talent in the position. Most won’t develop into first line scorers. But the depth is pretty amazing, and should provide the team with solid players for the future.

Albany Devils (AHL)

Matt Anderson – 76 GP, 55 points (23 G, 32 A), minus-3 rating

Anderson was an All-Star this season, netting a goal in the midseason showcase. He led all centers in every significant category despite never playing with a consistent line. In his three AHL seasons, Anderson improved his performance, posting a career high in points last season. Henrique will get the call first, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson get a look in the prospect camp this summer.

Adam Henrique – 73 GP, 50 points (25 G, 25 A), minus-3 rating

Henrique had one hell of a rookie season. While his 50 points aren’t overly impressive, he managed to produce offensively without a consistent line combination. His 25 goals are a rookie record. He shifted to left-wing for the second half of the season, which probably helped his numbers. His 50 points put him sixth among rookie scorers. He won’t need any more time in the AHL and should compete for a spot next season.

Steve Zalewksi – 81 GP, 44 points (15 G, 29 A), minus-8 rating

Zalewski came to the Devils organization in a February trade, where he found his game. He posted 11 goals and 17 assists in 31 games after the trade. He’s had a taste of the NHL, playing three games with the San Jose Sharks last season. He’s had AHL success, but never found a foothold. He seems destined to be AHL fodder who may get a few games here and there.

Stephen Gionta – 54 GP, 30 points (10 G, 20 A), plus-7 rating

Gionta gained fame for playing against his older brother, Brian, this season. Other than that, he didn’t do much with his NHL callup. He found some success in the AHL, collecting 30 points. He’ll never be a scorer and probably wouldn’t move past the fourth line on the NHL level. He provides good depth but isn’t the first choice for a roster spot next season.

Brad Mills – 53 GP, 24 points (15 G, 9 A), minus-2 rating

Mills made his NHL debut this season, scoring a game-winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in November. He’s a decent centerman, but nothing to write home about. His 24 points ranked pretty low, which is odd considering he anchored the team’s top line. Like Gionta, he’s a depth player at this point.

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Evaluating The Devils’ Organizational Depth: Trenton Devils Forwards

June 10, 2011 3 comments

Ginand led all Trenton Devils skates with 75 points. Photo Credit: Trenton Devils website

The New Jersey Devils forward strength seems focused on one position: left wing. On the NHL roster, the position runs three deep, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and converted center Patrik Elias. Rookies like Mattias Tedenby will only strengthen that position in the future.

Even the center position features some depth. Travis Zajac anchors the first line, and rookies such as Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson may become lineup fixtures in the future.

The one position where the team lacks depth is right wing. David Clarkson represents the team’s only veteran right-winger, and his offensive potential is limited. Nick Palmieri showed a ton of promise this year, but his offensive success was helped by playing on the first line.

While Albany does a fantastic job of breaking down the forwards by position, the Trenton Devils do not. Since all the forwards are clumped together on the website, this will be a review of all the forwards. Some seem good enough to take the leap, and others seem destined to be ECHL-lifers.

And here we go:

Ryan Ginand – 68 GP, 75 points (29 G, 46 A), plus-1 rating

Ginand was one of the few standouts on the Trenton Devils this season. He was the team’s lone All-Star representative, leading them in every offensive category. He also fired 402 shots on net, the second most in ECHL history. Ginand enjoyed a brief callup to Albany this season, and should find a permanent spot on their roster next year. His offensive skill seems promising, and he could be a can’t miss prospect for the organization.

Ryan Hayes – 63 games, 50 points (23 G, 27 A), 0 rating

Hayes is right behind Ginand in terms of offensive potential. In his first professional season, the forward recorded 50 points, good for second on the team. His transition from the Plymouth Whalers of the CHL (where he played with Tyler Seguin) went better than expected. He’s also big into humanitarian work, which is a plus for any professional athlete. Hopefully he’ll play in the Devils prospect camp this summer so we can get an extended look at him.

Jeff Prough – 48 games, 42 points (25 G, 17 A), minus-13 rating

Prough suffered through some minor injuries this season, playing just 48 games. He still produced 0.88 points per game, which is pretty solid. He’s been with the Trenton Devils for three seasons, so he’s reaching the limits of potential flameout. He twice recorded 30 goals and 60 points, so he’s shown he can produce. Hopefully he gets a shot to move up the organization’s ladder next season.

Matt Lombardi – 66 GP, 33 points (20 G, 13 A), minus-10 rating

Like Hayes, Lombardi made his Trenton debut this season, playing in 66 games. There was no shortage of offense on this team, and Lombardi was the fourth forward to record at least 20 goals. He came from Boston College, working his way from walk-on to assistant captain of two national champions. It was a solid debut season.

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Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth: Defenseman

Urbom was all smiles after tallying his first NHL goal - a game-winner - against the Boston Bruins on the last day of the season. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils will always be a defense-first team. Jacques Lemaire’s first tenure as coach, way back in 1995, began that precedent. Those teams developed the trapping style that brought three Stanley Cups to the Garden State. It seemed the organization possessed unlimited defensive depth, churning out defensive stalwarts like Colin White to compliment the core of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer.

Fast forward to 2011. The team still plays solid defense, but gone are the big names. In their place stand overachievers and average defenseman. The mass exodus of the dynasty defense through retirement and free agency left a gaping hole in the Devils’ organization. The inability to find a true offensive defenseman continues to frustrate fans. But there’s hope – a rising crop of defensive prospects, led by Jon Merrill and Alexander Urbom, should return the blueline to its once lofty status.

With a surplus of quality defenseman in this year’s draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Devils once again focus on their blueline with the fourth pick. But do they need a defenseman? The bubble of NHL-ready prospects looks ready to burst, providing ample opportunities for New Jersey to plug in holes. In today’s preview, we take a look at the organization’s defensive prospects, from the AHL to those yet to turn pro.

And here we go:

Albany Devils (AHL)

Alexander Urbom – 72 GP, 23 points (2 G, 21 A), minus-9 rating

Urbom continued the recent Swedish movement in the Devils organization. The 20-year old defenseman spent most of the season with the Albany Devils, earning two brief call-ups to the Devils. He led all Albany defenseman in points, and earned significant minutes on the powerplay.

The year of seasoning helped Urbom tremendously. When he broke camp with the Devils, he looked rough and didn’t adjust well to the NHL. But his year in the AHL gave him the ability to play with veterans like Olivier Magnan and Rob Davison. He ended his season on a positive note, tallying his first career NHL goal in the Devils’ 3-2 win. He may find himself back in the AHL next season, but Urbom made a strong case to play on the Devils’ blueline next season.

Rob Davison – 63 GP, 18 points (4 G, 14 A), minus-1 rating

Davison became one of the biggest offensive threats on an underachieving blueline in Albany this season. The stay-at-home defenseman, who compiled 203 NHL games before the season, never found a way to make it to New Jersey. When the organization needed replacements, they routinely called on other players. Davison signed this summer as a depth player, and served that role to the letter.

The unrestricted free agent probably won’t be in the organization next season. He helped with the development of Urbom and gave the team quality minutes. But a guy with over 200-games of NHL experience deserves a shot to make a NHL team, something he may not get with New Jersey.

Olivier Magnan – 50 GP, 13 points (2 G, 11 A), minus-3 rating

Magnan’s shown steady improvement in each season with the organization. The former QMJHL Kevin Lowe Trophy winner (best defensive defenseman) finally got his chance to play in New Jersey last season. In 18 games, he was solid yet unspectacular, failing to record a point. But he couldn’t stick in New Jersey, eventually giving way to Mark Fayne.

Despite solid play for both teams, Magnan may not return to the team next season. With a new crop of defenseman ready to take the reigns, Magnan may be forced out by his inability to deliver on his talent.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Nick Palmieri

Palmieri, slotted on the top line, meshed well with both Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Nick Palmieri.

Heading into the 2010-2011 regular season, Nick Palmieri found himself a mere name among the New Jersey Devils’ prospects. The rookie right-winger, who played in six regular season games during the 2009-10 campaign, found himself buried underneath new rookie faces like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson. Being overlooked wasn’t a surprise, as Palmieri managed just one assist in that brief stint with the Devils. But he totalled 36 points, including 21 goals, with the Lowell Devils. The organization knew the talent was there, and Palmieri rewarded them for their trust.

Palmieri’s presence helped fill a major hole on the team’s first line. After the trade of Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey needed a right-winger to move up to the top spot. In came Palmieri, who developed chemistry quickly with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. He scored the “dirty goals,” crashing the net and battling for pucks in the corners. He collected 17 points in 43 games, becoming an important piece of the team’s offense. Like rookie counterpart Mark Fayne, Palmieri exceeded expectations last season, helping stabilize the top line and providing solid secondary scoring.

Palmieri At Even Strength

Palmieri helped generate offense on the ice, outproducing several veteran players. After his call-up on December 30, the rookie right-winger averaged 14:19 of ice time. He made the most of his limited opportunities, compiling a plus-0.40 rating. Surprisingly, he finished in the green despite his quality of teammates (minus-0.006) ranking lower than the quality of competition (plus-0.029).

Palmieri was one of the few players to make a positive on-ice impact during even strength. On the ice, New Jersey averaged 2.54 goals for per 60 (25 total) against 1.73 goals against per 60 (17 total). His on-ice plus/minus of plus-0.81 ranked first among skaters with 40-plus games played. Off the ice, all three numbers declined. Goals for per 60 dropped to 2.03, and the goals against per 60 dropped to 1.62. His off-ice plus/minus rating also fell to plus-0.41.

For all his help producing offense, Palmieri didn’t effectively create or defend shots. While on the ice, the team averaged just 22.9 shots for per 60. Opponents were able to put 23.1 shots on net. Off the ice, the offensive shot numbers improved.  New Jersey 24.7 shots for per 60, but still allowed 23.7.

The Corsi ratings exemplify Palmieri’s effectiveness. On the ice, Palmieri collected a plus-3.20 Corsi. It’s not a large number, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Playing with the top line helped improve this number, but he contributed as well. He managed to put 66 shots on net, which isn’t easy considering the talent around him. Off the ice, the rating declined to plus-2.54. The split isn’t huge, but it shows the positive impact Palmieri brought on the ice. He wasn’t a game changer, but he provided some solid play.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Mark Fayne

May 26, 2011 1 comment

Fayne played 57 games this season, leading all skaters with a plus-10 rating. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Mark Fayne.

The New Jersey Devils’ defense entered the preseason under one of the biggest question marks in recent history. The organization watched as Paul Martin, arguably one of their best offensive defenseman, left to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his place came Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, and Andy Greene became the top threat along the blueline. Colin White and Bryce Salvador figured to anchor the defense. But things, of course, never work out as planned.

A spot opened along the blueline after Salvador suffered a concussion in the preseason. Ex-coach John MacLean gave several rookies a look. Matt Taormina took the spot, starting the first 17 games of the season. The injury bug would get him too, opening the door for Mark Fayne.

Nobody had terribly high expectations for the Providence product. The rookie made his NHL debut against the Washington Capitals on November 22, and the experience proved to be “nuts.”

“My first game was kinda nuts playing against Ovechkin,” he said to me in an interview. “I wasn’t matched up against him, but a few times I was out when he was at the end of his shift and I thought ‘Oh my God, that’s Alex Ovechkin.'”

Clearly, the experience of playing in the NHL didn’t overwhelm Fayne. He became the best rookie defenseman, starting 57 games and providing solid minutes. He contributed offensively, played smart defensively and took care of his job on the ice. The rookie exceeded expectations, making him one of the best defenseman this season.

Fayne At Even Strength

Fayne finished among the top three in almost every important even strength category. That means he outproduced players like Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson in his first season. Fayne averaged 17:50 of ice time, ranked 14th among all rookie skaters. That number was the highest of all the rookies on the Devils this season. His plus-1.02 rating ranked first among skaters with at least 50-games played. He’s the only player to crack a plus-1 rating, and only one of eight to finish positive. He produced those numbers despite facing better quality of competition (plus-0.04) with lesser teammates (minus-0.071).

Despite a down year for several players, Fayne helped provide scoring and played responsible defensively. While on the ice, the team averaged 2.30 goals for per 60 (35 total). That average tied him for second on the team with Travis Zajac. He only allowed opponents 1.77 goals against per 60, tied for lowest on the team with Mattias Tedenby. His on-ice plus/minus of plus-0.52 ranked first on the team and was just one of three plus ratings on the ice.

With Fayne off the ice, the team worsened in every category. Goals for per 60 dropped to 1.73 and goals against per 60 rose to 2.23.  His off-ice plus/minus fell to minus-0.49, almost a full point lower than his on-ice production.

Shot production followed a similar trend. On the ice, Fayne helped the team average 25.5 shots on net. He limited opponents to 22.4 shots against per 60, third best among defenseman with 50-plus games played. Off the ice, both numbers suffered. Shots for per 60 dropped to 23.7, almost a two shot difference. Shots against per 60 rose to 23.8, which is a small yet noticeable difference.

Fayne’s Corsi rating confirms his strong even-strength performance. His on-ice rating of plus-7.7 ranked second among all defenseman, just seven-tenths of a point behind Tallinder. Off the ice, that number dropped to plus-0.6. Fayne exceeded expectations on even-strength play. He helped produce offensive opportunities, limited opponents chances, and became a solid player. Outproducing some of the bigger names on the roster, including Ilya Kovalchuk, shows the potential for him to grow into a top four defenseman.

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