As a result of both a busy schedule this week and not really having any single idea as to what to write about, I thought I would tackle a number of smaller issues and rumors surrounding our New Jersey Devils this week.
The Curious Case of Travis Zajac
As much as I love him as a player, Travis Zajac isn't exactly living up to his current contract. While he has missed 8 games this season due to the mumps, he's currently on pace for a paltry 28 points, a number that's pretty low even for his new spot on the Devils' second line. With approximately $5 million plus (I miss you capgeek) being owed to him per season on his current contract, it's easy to see why many fans are frustrated with Travis' numbers.
While defensively Zajac certainly qualifies as a #1 center, his offensive ineptitude prevents him from being a true #1 center in today's NHL. He is still drawing some of the hardest assignments on a nightly basis (Sidney Crosby anyone?) but his offensive is stagnant. Part of that may be due to the players flanking him; while he performed well with Patrik Elias and Mike Cammalleri for a couple of games, the Devils would swap Cam and Martin Havlat in an effort to get the third line going. Since that point, Zajac and Elias seem to have fallen off of a cliff offensively; say what you will about certain players and combinations, but this writer is hoping that Havlat doesn't get re-signed for next season.
Since the Devils December coaching change, we have seen one young defenseman step up and another continue to struggle. Adam Larsson has gotten his act together and is starting to look like a fourth overall pick, however Eric Gelinas continues to spin his tires in the snow so to speak.
Gelinas is having trouble cracking a lineup that currently contains Peter Harrold (a serviceable 7th defender) and Mark Fraser (good for maybe the first 2 games he played with us this season) which has to be an alarming sign. The fact that the Devils should have Damon Severson back within the next couple of weeks would be another cause for alarm for Gelinas. He needs to either step up his game, or he could find himself the odd man out; you can decide whether that means press box purgatory, or being dangled in trades at the deadline.
The rumor mill is always churning this time of year, however one odd one stuck out to me; Bruce Garrioch over at the Ottawa Sun reported that the Devils were one of a few teams interested in Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf. At first I laughed the rumor off as just hogwash, however the more I thought about it, there's a possibility that where there's smoke, there's fire.
While the Devils certainly are crafting a strong defensive core for themselves, the fact remains that Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador won't be playing forever; both are slated to be unrestricted free agents after this season as well. On top of that, Captain Crunch himself is behind the bench now and a quick search of YouTube is all you need to find some bone-jarring Phaneuf hits. The Devils could use a competent (sorry Mark Fraser) heavy-hitting defenseman; the cap hit, the asking price from Toronto, perceived character issues about Dion, and whether or not the Devils are actually interested in him are separate topics. Speaking of Bryce Salvador however...
Quiet on the Injury Front
As of two weeks ago, Salvador has still not resumed skating after his most recent injury. As critical as I can be of him for his poor play, I have to feel bad for the guy due to the fact that he is currently unable to play the sport he loves. If his health allows him, hopefully Bryce can get back on the ice for at least one more game (hopefully at The Rock) so the fans can show him their appreciation; again, he hasn't been the best player the last few years, but he's sacrificed his body for the team and deserves to be recognized before his career ends.
Continuing on with the injury report is the more alarming injury; of course I am talking about Ryane Clowe. His concussion and injury concerns tend to pop up periodically in my articles, mainly because I fear he doesn't have much hockey left in him sadly. The number of concussions is piling up for Ryane; how many more before you pull the plug on your career so that the rest of your life isn't plagued by recurring symptoms? Tom Gulitti over at Fire and Ice gave us an update from Lou Lamoriello almost two weeks ago that Clowe's return is uncertain any way you look at it.
Jagr and Gomez
Out of all of New Jersey's players heading for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, these are the two that I really want to see back in red and black next season. While Jagr has regressed from last season, he's still playing well enough to be in our top 6. Gomez, as I wrote about previously, has been a breath of fresh air for our stinky team. With the shortage of NHL-ready forwards in the system, these guys should be back for at least one more year.
On the other side of that coin, Havlat, Fraser and Michael Ryder all need to go away. Zidlicky (if not traded), Tootoo, Bernier and Harrold I wouldn't mind back, but would not mind if we moved on from them either. We have a few players down in the AHL (Whitney, Boucher, Matteau and a couple of others) that have been waiting for an opportunity; it's time to assess where these guys are at and figure out if they're going to make any significant contribution to our team or not.
Now I'd like to hear from my fellow Devils fans as to what you think about any and/or all of the above topics. Leave your comments below, and thank you as always for reading!