Earlier on Sunday morning, before the news came out that the New Jersey Devils traded Henrik Tallinder to Buffalo for Riley Boychuk, CapGeek listed two new contracts for the Devils. They were both two-year, two-way deals to players who weren't on the New Jersey roster at the end of last season. They were given to two players who are familiar with Albany and likely will continue to be familiar: Tim Sestito and Darcy Zajac. Tom Gulitti confirmed the signings at the end of his post about the Tallinder trade at Fire & Ice. Both deals don't currently count against the cap. If they did, it wouldn't be for much. Each got just above league minimum were they to play in the NHL.
Admittedly, it appears to me that the Devils decided to keep both Zajac and Sestito for the purposes of familiarity. Sestito has been in the organization since the 2009-10 season. He's been called up to play in New Jersey in response to injury in the past so the organization thinks somewhat well of him. However, he's never shown that he could be anything more than just a guy at the NHL level. He doesn't bring any offense to the table. He's not much of a defender. He's not much of a NHL player, to be frank about it. Now that I'm writing about it, I question his usefulness in Albany. The most he's ever scored in the AHL was 18 goals and 17 assists with Lowell back in 2009-10 and he has yet to come close to those marks. (Though if you want to be particular, he had a slightly higher point per game rate in 2010-11.) He's not an AHL scorer, so what does he do? Why he's getting paid six figures to be in Albany, I couldn't tell you. Insert your ironic ENERGY!!1! references here, I suppose.
Travis' brother Darcy has been touted as a two-way, defensive-minded center. I couldn't tell you how effective he has or hasn't been in Albany in that regard. I do know that not much production has come from Darcy Zajac. After splitting time between the A and E in 2010-11, he's been a mainstay of the Albany roster from the last two seasons. He put up 8 goals and 16 assists in the first and 9 goals and 8 assists in the second, more recent season. Over at Thoughts Inside the Box, an Albany Devils blog, Tracey stated that the contract is well deserved. Maybe he's been better than his numbers, but I don't know what kind of upside a 26-year old really has to compel New Jersey to give him his first NHL contract now as opposed to, say, a season or two ago. Maybe they didn't have a reserve list spot for him.
I know it seems weird to be critical of two signings for two guys who are likely going to be in the AHL next season. They each take up a spot on the team's 50-man reserve list; though the Devils are well under it even if they keep all of their RFAs. And I understand that familiarity plays a role; going with someone the organization knows rather than risk someone else. But I still think it's worth asking why these two deals made. I understand the Devils are familiar with both players and it's possible that they think they're worth keeping around. Take it further: why not just give them an AHL contract? I can tell you right now that Tim Sestito isn't going to "figure it out" and get better. He is who he is, and he's not a NHL quality player. I'm not convinced Darcy Zajac can do much at the next level if he's not bossing AHL players around; but I will admit my ignorance. To put it in perspective, the Devils giving Joe Whitney, the 25-year old former BC scorer, a NHL deal made some sense. He was Albany's top scorer for two straight seasons and while that may not be saying much, I can see why he's earned that additional notice. Whitney has done something obviously good at the AHL level. I can't say that about either Sestito or possibly Zajac.
Keep in mind that after Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson get signed, the team will have fifteen forwards, which does include a not-really-a-NHL player in Mattias Tedenby and face-puncher Krystofer Barch. Should the Devils get hit with a rash of injuries at forward or some forwards are under performing, the potential call ups from Albany are a group of Sestito, Whitney, Zajac, Boucher, Wohlberg, Hoeffel, Sislo, and Matteau. Sure, Reid Boucher may have a future and Matteau certainly does but that's not an enticing group even if you include Tedenby. I'm not entirely opposed to Darcy Zajac getting a taste at all, to be honest, I just question what he can do. Sestito will bring nothing we haven't seen - which isn't all that much at all. Knowing that he's been given games in the past would make a return more likely, which would be a waste of time. These may be marginal signings, but this is also another area where teams can really strengthen themselves. I can't say the Devils really did that with these two moves.
What could they have done instead? They could have taken a chance on a proven AHL guy, someone who could be at least a proven AHL scorer. They could have looked for an unsigned late bloomer from college that they liked. They could have seen someone who was once thought to have potential and maybe just needs a new environment. New Jersey didn't do this; they decided to stick with who they had and didn't really get improve their depth in the process with these two signings. In the big picture it may not be much, I'll admit I'm not overly concerned with how Albany performs, and I understand not everyone on the 50-man reserve list needs to a prospect with significant potential. But I just don't quite get retaining both Zajac and especially Sestito with the option of them coming to Newark for two years. I'm back to that original question of "Why?" If there isn't much upside or the player doesn't do something specifically well, then why keep them around? Why not just give them AHL deals, stick with Albany, and then sign them later if they do well? Why not take a chance on someone else?
In light of this, it's another reason why the Devils were smart to take a chance on Rostislav Olesz. We should hope he does fairly well because the forward depth isn't very good beyond him and that's solidified with Sestito at least still being around. I wish the Devils took some other chances regarding their depth. Anyway, let me know what you think about Sestito and Zajac getting NHL deals in the comments. I can agree I'm probably making a bit too much of it, but again, this depth matters and while we hope the Devils don't have to go that far down the chart, we can't rule out the possibility. Thanks for reading.