Nobody has mentioned it yet. Maybe it is too early. Maybe it is not fair. But I'm going to say it.
Travis Zajac is not living up to the max contract he signed prior to the start of the season.
Okay, so it would be hard for anybody to live up to an eight-year extension in just 23 games. Let’s just say he is not showing his appreciation. He is not thanking Lou Lamoriello the way he should be.
Zajac didn’t necessarily ask for $5.75 million a year. He didn’t demand the first max-contract given out under the new CBA. But he got it. With Zach Parise gone, Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias approaching the finish line and Ilya Kovalchuk the enigma that he is, Zajac is the Devils' new anointed son. And he has got to play like it. At least close to it.
Four goals and three assists through 23 games is not what I’m talking about.
I’ll give credit where credit is due. Zajac does take care of his business in the defensive zone. He kills penalties. He wins a lot of his faceoffs. Besides a freak offseason injury when he tore his Achilles doing calisthenics, he is very durable. He had seven big goals last postseason. Zajac embodies New Jersey Devils hockey.
But that contract was like taking the freelance title off of an employee in the corporate world. Lou Lamoriello doesn’t extend people like that often. It was as if he said, “You are here to stay. You are our guy now. We need you to step up for this team.”
Halfway through this short season, he hasn’t done that.
At age 27, he was expected to launch into his prime. He isn’t a weakness. He isn’t having a bad season, exactly. It’s just that he isn’t stepping up offensively in the absence of Zach Parise.
Zajac’s best seasons statistically were 2008-09 and 2009-10. He logged 62 and 67 points, respectively, and appeared ready for takeoff. But he dipped to 44 points the following season, and last season was lost to injury.
He did score some big goals in the playoffs last year. It seems like every Devils player did, for that matter. The performance after an idle season reaffirmed his heart, his worth. And it was during the week-long training camp in January that he signed an eight-year, $46 million extension.
He is never going to be a point-per-game guy. The Winnipeg native is less finesse and more of a hard hat and lunch pale type of player. But he has to return to the heights of three years ago because 60 points, along with the other things he does well, is worth that type of money.
Currently, nobody is putting the puck in the net for this Devils team, Zajac included. Maybe this is the time for him to score a big goal to ignite his teammates and get the Devils back on track.
That’s what he is being paid for.