The house-cleaning refuses to let up in New Jersey as another long-time Devil will hit the road. Around noon today, the Devils made the following announcement:
#NJDevils GM Ray Shero announces that Dainius Zubrus has been placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.— New Jersey Devils (@NHLDevils) July 29, 2015
So, after 8 seasons with the team, Dainius Zubrus will not be part of the 2015-16 Devils roster as the team will choose to buy out the final year of his 3-year, $9.3-million contract he signed after the 2013 NHL season. With that, the Devils will open up further space within their forward corps for the upcoming season. The news was a bit surprising, if only because of the timing, but as a hockey move it certainly makes sense. Zubrus had declined precipitously in the past three seasons, with his 2014-15 campaign being particularly dreadful.
With the GM Ray Shero and the Devils trying to turn over a new leaf, jettisoning Zubrus was a move they likely chose to make in order to clear some room for players who will have a chance to contribute both this season and beyond. It's interesting that the Devils didn't choose to do this in the earlier buyout window, but once Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson filed for arbitration, the Devils were guaranteed a second 48-hour window to buy players out after those negotiations were settled. Ray Shero indicated that the team did not have any plans to utilize this buyout window, but perhaps he learned more from Lou in their time together than we realized, because here we are.
As for the cap implications of the move, it appears that there won't be a whole lot. Zubrus' contract was one of the over-35 variety, which means that his full cap hit will remain against the Devils cap for the 2015-16 season. The Devils will pay two-thirds of the actual dollar value of the contract over two years like a typical buyout, but it will be off the Devils' cap by next offseason. Explanation here, via Tom Gulitti:
Payout on buyout for Zubrus is 2/3 the total value of his remaining contract ($3.1 million) spread out over twice the remaining years (1)— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) July 29, 2015
BUT, because Zubrus' deal was over-35 contract, his full cap hit of $3.1 million counts for the Devils in 2015-16. Then, it comes off books— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) July 29, 2015
Since the Devils are in need of no cap relief, it doesn't matter that this move doesn't offer any. This move was clearly done for the purposes of turning over the roster and allowing more space to evaluate forwards heading into next season.
Beyond the benefits of getting younger, there is a pretty good argument to be made that this move was a bit of addition by subtraction for next season in itself. Not in a local media shiv-you-on-the-way-out "this guy is a bad teammate and off-ice menace" kind of way, but more of a "whatever replacement level is in the NHL, he was probably playing worse than it" kind of way. Of the 359 forwards in the NHL with 500+ minutes last season, Zubrus had the third-lowest 5v5 points/60 rate. Only Rangers albatross Tanner Glass and Vancouver waiver pickup Brandon McMillan had less. Zubrus seemed to have lost a step in general, and just wasn't contributing in other areas the same way you might have seen in the past either. Not having Zubrus clogging a roster spot will likely make this team immediately better, albeit marginally.
With that said, I will look back on Zubrus' tenure in New Jersey mostly fondly, as he was a workhorse for the Devils before his decline over the past couple seasons. The big Lithuanian was an important player on the 2011-12 team that ran to the Cup final, and he was always the guy doing the dirty work along the boards and on some of those stifling Devils penalty kill units. He will also be remembered as the much-maligned Devils locker room DJ and a player that others really enjoyed being around. His exit is unceremonious, as most of them are, but despite a rough finish over the past season-and-a-half, he is a player whose contribution to the Devils shouldn't be forgotten.
A few moments to remember:
And, of course, once more, with feeling: