Yesterday, there was a day of drama surrounding Pavel Zacha. Rumors of going to the KHL. Avangard Omsk stating such rumors were premature but not denying them. General manager Ray Shero tossing expletives to the press about he did not care about that. Word of actually finalizing a deal with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. It was almost as much drama as an Internet discussion regarding Zacha’s worth to the organization. Today was a different day. This morning, the New Jersey Devils announced that they have re-signed Pavel Zacha to a three-season contract worth $6.75 million. He will remain in New Jersey.
It was thought that the Avangard Omsk play was for leverage. While Shero was publicly unmoved by it to say the least, it did lead to this deal. According to the details of his new contract at CapFriendly, Zacha will have a $2.25 million cap hit and his salary will increase from $1.75 million for this season to $2 million next season to $3 million in the following season. At the conclusion of this contract, Zacha will be a restricted free agent again but with arbitration rights. This means that in the summer of 2022, he and his agent can file for a hearing to get moving on a contract. They will have a little more power in that regard. I am not aware of what Zacha or his representation was asking for. However, Zacha did receive a significant bump in pay for a term that at least gives him arbitration eligibility. I can see how this would be more of a win for Zacha than it is for the Devils.
An annual average value of $2.25 million may seem high for someone who has consistently put up no more than 25 points in his first three NHL seasons. It is true that Zacha was arguably elite on the penalty kill last season. However, the Devils’ regular forwards for the PK were all good to very good themselves, the Devils’ PK was one of the best in the league, and that is only a relatively small part of the game. The Devils were both great on the penalty kill and one of the worst teams in the NHL last season. My point is that as excellent as he was on that special team, it does not necessarily mean it is worth millions. Performance in 5-on-5 situations is more important if only because it is the most common situation in hockey and Zacha really was not that good at it in 2018-19. There were brighter signs in 2017-18. Given my reaction to yesterday’s news included my thinking that his spot can be easily replaced, I can see how this seems like a lot for what he has done.
Yet, there are mitigating factors that help justify the cost of doing business. Zacha is still a young player at 22 years old. Like many young players, it takes some time for the skills to come together. He has offensive talents; it is a question of whether he can shoot more or be more aggressive in using them. The PK performances suggest he has a defensive component in his game, but he has not been able to demonstrate that much. Zacha has been bouncing around between center and left wing in various spots. Some consistency in terms of role may do him some good - such as remaining in the bottom six on a more stacked Devils squad at forward. These seem like apologetics for Zacha for the last season or so but that does not make them any less true.
The biggest one is that this is pretty much a market-level deal. Anthony Beauvillier may be a left winger but he is similar to Zacha, who sometimes plays left wing, in age and was also a RFA after his third NHL season. He is also similar to Zacha in terms of raw production. While he has more with 88 points in 216 games (.40 points per game) compared to Zacha’s 76 in 201 games (0.37 points per game), it is not like Beauvillier has blown up on box scores either. Beauvillier is also arguably the better 5-on-5 player than Zacha over the last two seasons, although he has not been used at all on the PK last season - which is arguably Zacha’s main claim over him. The Islanders and Beauvillier came to terms earlier this offseason and he was re-signed for two years and $4.2 million, or $2.1 AAV per CapFriendly. While Zacha is arguably a lesser player than Beauvillier, it is not like Beauvillier has really broken out in the NHL either. To that end, I do not think is unreasonable to think Zacha would get around the same amount of money. While I thought it would be a little less, I can see how Shero had to pay a little more to get an extra year in term. Which happened. A difference of less than $500,000 is not that much in the bigger scheme of things given the Devils’ cap situation. Therefore, I see Zacha’s new deal around market value from that perspective. I can see how you may think it is still a little high for Zacha but it is what it is.
This is all to say that I am not overwhelmed or underwhelmed by this new contract. I am whelmed. I think it is OK. I am fine with this. Should things not work out for Zacha, it is a moveable contract. He could be an exposure target for the future expansion draft for Seattle. If it does work out and he improves (fingers-crossed) or he is perfectly fine, then three years is a fine length of time before re-visiting a new contract. After all, based on CapFriendly’s listing for the Devils, only Damon Severson is signed beyond 2022. Shero will have a lot of wiggle room when this deal ends. Although that may (hopefully?) change for the likes of Hall, Hischier, Bratt, Blackwood, and so forth.
What does it mean for the team at the moment? The Devils are all set contract-wise for 2019-20. No one will be a hold out in training camp. That is good. The Devils have a little over $75 million committed to the salary cap. They have room to maneuver as the season goes on as well as more than enough money to statisfy potential bonuses. That is good. Zacha should have the inside track on a bottom six role, which is good for him. It does add to the challenge for Jesper Boqvist, Kevin Rooney, and other centers to make the roster out of camp and preseason this season. But a spot was never going to be handed to them anyway.
What do you think of this new contract for Zacha? Do you think it is a fair deal for Zacha and the Devils? If you think this is too much for Zacha, then what do you think he has to do in the next three seasons to justify the contract? Where would you put Zacha in the lineup if you were John Hynes? Please leave your answers and your other thoughts about Zacha and his new deal in the contract. Thank you for reading.