I don’t think many (if any) Devils fans were surprised to see Kyle Palmieri being traded last night. The fact that he went to the New York Islanders was also somewhat predictable based on reports going around.
That Travis Zajac went with him caught quite a few people (myself included) off guard.
After celebrating his 1000th game in his career and in red and black this season, the possibility of Zajac chasing a cup certainly existed. However, I think many of us wanted (and somewhat maybe even expected) him to stick with his no trade clause and remain a career Devil.
While I will miss Zajac as a Devil (and will be rooting for all the former Devils now in New York to get a Cup this year) today I wanted to take a look at his link to the last time the team was (at least somewhat) a consistent contender and the value that Travis brought to the franchise.
Travis was the final remaining relic from the last time that our favorite franchise was relevant. The unforeseen 2012 Stanley Cup run is still talked about, partly due to the relevance factor, but also due to the magic of it. No one expected the Devils to be competing for much of anything in 2012 as a #6 seed; even more so when the Florida Panthers (who despite being the #3 seed had an inferior record) pushed the Devils in a full seven game series.
Those Devils weren’t supposed to make it past the Flyers, but five games later they were in the Eastern Conference Finals. Well, the #1 seeded New York Rangers would surely take them down; six games later would bring us the magical Doc Emrick call of, “Henrique! It’s over!” along with the team’s first spot in the Stanley Cup Finals since 2003. When people usually reflect on the series, it’s usually to reminisce about Henrique’s overtime heroics, or to lament the loss of two high scoring wingers from that series over the next pair of offseasons.
But aside from his running man after beating the Panthers in Game 6, hardly anyone talks about Travis Zajac’s postseason play.
Maybe it’s because other narratives (Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk’s injured back, Steve Bernier’s boarding major) or the cup loss overshadow it. Zajac’s 2012 playoffs however, (at least prior to the LA series) were sublime; when you really stare though, it was a microcosm of his time as a Devil.
While Kovalchuk had the best stats on the team, you can argue Zajac being the most important Devil all series; while his 7 goals trailed the 8 each of Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, Travis did not have any empty net tallies, while Zach had three. Additionally, while one or both of those wingers would play alongside Travis during the postseason, Zajac was the one playing the best defense out of the three.
Did I forget to mention that was the season he barely appeared in any regular season games due to an Achilles injury which required surgery?
Again, maybe it’s fitting that Travis’ 2012 isn’t one of the more remembered narratives, because that embodies who he has been during his Devils career. He is the definition of an unselfish player, who competes for the crest on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back. Dare we say he was...All About the Jersey? (insert cheap pop here)
A New Future
Now Zajac could always come back in the offseason, signed to a new, smaller contract that sees him as a veteran role player and mentor to the younger Devils. For the time being though, the Devils are without any of the players from the last time they made an impact in the league. They have some good young pieces in place, but are still working to find a similar level of success.
Things are going to be different in New Jersey; when the Devils have to kill a penalty, or shut down an opposing top line, who do they turn to now? Who takes the younger players under their wing, showing them how to be a contributor in all three zones on the ice? Again, maybe it’s Zajac in a second tint next year, but for the remainder of 2021, there’s more questions than answers for who will fill the hole in the lineup left by Travis’ departure.
I also don’t want to ignore or pretend that Kyle Palmieri wasn’t a good Devil for many years now, and his goal scoring prowess during these past dark years should be celebrated. However, Palms wasn’t as tenured, nor was he drafted by the Devils; he’s definitely important, but he’s no Travis Zajac.
Zajac and Palmieri have departed and now the Devils head into an era without the link to their last successful run. What are your thoughts on the future of the Devils, if just for this season? What are your favorite memories of Zajac as a Devil? Do you see him returning next season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!