Earlier today, one of the loose ends of the offseason was tied up. The New Jersey Devils announced that they signed Pavel Zacha to a three-year entry level contract worth a cap hit of $925,000 per year. Zacha had to have been signed by 5 PM on Saturday in order to ensure that he could play in the NHL this season. That was avoided. More important was that are the contract details. Per Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Zacha received something in his ELC that previous prospects did not get: performance bonuses.
There are two types of bonuses available for an entry level contract according to the NHL CBA. Schedule A bonuses would include meeting marks like finishing in the top six among forwards in ice time with at least 42 games played, scoring 20 or more goals, putting up 35 or more assists, reaching 60 or more points, a point per game minimum of 0.73 with at least 42 games played, finishing in the top three forwards in plus-minus with at least 42 games played, making the NHL all-rookie team, making the NHL All-Star Game, and being named MVP of the NHL All-Star Game. Zacha received some of these; Gulitti confirmed that Zacha did not get the maximum allowed of $850,000 for all Schedule A bonuses. Schedule B bonuses are for league awards, such as being voted as a finalist for various trophies and finishing in the top ten in goals, assists, points, and/or points per game with a minimum of 42 games played. Zacha received none of those. The bonuses are notable since Zacha received some of them in his contract. Per this later post by Gulitti, they were also the sticking points for this contract. By limiting Zacha to only Schedule A bonuses, his cap hit should remain rather reasonable. So I'm fine with that. That the team also managed to avoid having to pay his Czech team $100,000, something Gulitti also reported, is also a nice occurrence as well.
For the upcoming season, Zacha has two choices: play in the NHL with New Jersey or play in the OHL with Sarnia. The last time the Devils drafted someone in the top ten, I argued he should've stayed with his original team and the team should let his contract slide. The Devils didn't and I think Adam Larsson turned out OK. With Zacha, I'm going to argue again that he should be with Sarnia for the next season.
I know the Devils are not going to be a good team; they are a re-building team. That doesn't mean they should throw an 18-year old into the lineup with the expectations for him to good things. Starting his contract now will lead to the team signing him earlier and possibly for more than they would want. Most of all, Zacha has plenty left to prove in the OHL. Whereas Larsson was playing regularly in Sweden, Zacha played in a total of only 42 appearances with the Sting. Yes, Zacha did well in those games but his draft year was cut short due to injury, suspension, and international appearances. I'd be more willing to hear out why he should be in New Jersey if he was a dominant force in juniors. I think he should do that first before asking him to play regularly in the greatest hockey league in the world.
There could be a compromise. The Devils could have him appear in nine games and then send him back to juniors before the first year of his ELC truly begins. This would give Zacha a sense of what to expect, it would give the fans a little time to see him, and it would give management a baseline of where he is at right now. I would be fine with this. I would not be fine by Game #7 or #8 and the talk is "Hmmm, maybe he should stick around." I wasn't a fan of it with Stefan Matteau, I wouldn't be with Zacha short of him crushing it like a boss. Even then, I'd prefer to let him play most of the season with Sarnia, have that contract slide, and have a more interesting decision in 2016-17 about where he should play.
While this signing tied up a loose end, news came out that will lead to the next appearance for Zacha. Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that the Devils rookies will take part in a mini-tournament in early September. The Devils' rookies will report to training camp on September 10, they'll head up to Buffalo on the 11th, play the Sabres' rookies on the 12th, and then the Bruins' rookies on the 13th. If you're in the area, they will sell tickets for this game. No word (yet) on whether or not these games will be broadcasted in any way or form. Expect Zacha and others to try to make their mark there before preseason.
With Zacha's signing, what's your reaction? Happy that it's done? Were you really worried at any point? More importantly, where do you think he should play in 2015-16? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Zacha's first deal with the Devils in the comments. Thank you for reading.