Let me start this article by saying that over the course of his career, I’ve loved watching Travis Zajac play hockey for the New Jersey Devils. He has been from the start of his career someone who exemplified everything this team stood for, from playing for the crest on the front rather than the nameplate on the back to playing in every zone on the ice. His willingness to battle each time he jumped over the boards endeared him to many of the Devils’ faithful within his first few full campaigns.
At the same time, Zajac was always one of the more unsung heroes on the team in some ways, as he never was (nor currently is) a flashy player. He was, however, the rock that could always be relied upon for solid play and spectacular defense to shut down the opposition. Nowhere would that be more apparent than during the 2012 playoffs; returning in time from a major injury to put up 7 goals and 14 points as arguably the team’s most or second-most important forward of that run. He was rewarded for his play with a new long term contract extension, one that is set to expire after this season.
Father time, as always, finds a way to win out over us all though. While Travis continues to be one of the hardest working Devils game in and game out, his effectiveness (at least offensively) is decreasing as he logs more and more game mileage. At some point, even with how smart of a player he is, he’s going to have to call it the end of his playing career. As he will be 36 by season’s end, it is fair to wonder if the dreaded word of “retirement” might start being spoken about as the season comes closer to conclusion.
There were reports last season that Zajac declined to waive his no trade clause as the trade deadline approached, stating that he wanted to be here in New Jersey. While the team needs veterans to insulate their youth, Travis is no longer being used in a way that does that; his deployment is that of a defensive specialist (which he continues to be) rather than someone creating easier matchups for the youngsters. With Pavel Zacha having his best season to date at this point, he can be used in a way that frees up Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes to have some easier matchups.
With unrestricted free agency coming up, and limited seasons left in his career, Zajac may feel differently and want to take one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup. I think the Devils should oblige him if he does (and I’m sure they would) regardless of the return. Travis has been a great Devil for a long time now and he deserves a chance to win the big one before he hangs up the skates.
As for whether this is his last season or not, I think it does depend on how the rest of 2021 goes. He could be one of the players still struggling after recovering from Covid-19 related illness, and he did just crank out a three assist game on Tuesday, showing he still has something left in the tank to give. If he wants to stay a career Devil, I think there could be room for him as a Bottom 6/13th forward beyond this year, but it remains to be seen if management feels the same way.
I don’t necessarily think 2021 is the end for Travis Zajac; I think he, like other adaptive players before him, will find a way to have a NHL role for a couple more seasons before he calls it a career. And when he does, can we please have a contract waiting to have him somewhere in this organization teaching young guys how to defend?
What are your thoughts on the Travis Zajac and this season; will 2021 be the end for him? Does he remain a Devil at the trade deadline? Do you see him coming back for 2021-22 or signing elsewhere? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!