New Jersey Devils Lose Travis Zajac To Injury
The New Jersey Devils announced on Thursday that star center, Travis Zajac, has undergone surgery for a torn pectoral muscle and will miss somewhere between four to six months. The team confirmed that the injury was sustained last week while he was ramping up his training in preparation for the start of training camp.
The timing for the injury is poor but it could be significantly worse, it could have occurred during the regular season. The issue here is that Zajac is going to miss training camp and valuable practice time with his team mates. The role Zajac plays in centering a line also needs to have time for chemistry to develop and timing to be established in training camp.
An injury of this type could be a significant and the timetable could be closer to six months for Zajac to return to the ice. Then, the next issue is that he will have to ramp up his own personal fitness level to be able to get back into “game shape”. The Devils will have to now focus on roster adjustments to move forward as they prepare for the 2017-18 NHL season.
The impact on the season (which starts October 7th) is problematic for New Jersey because Zajac has played an integral role for the club as a stellar two-way forward. He has won a significant amount of face offs to help the team control possession of the puck. His return could be around the Christmas holiday at the earliest and could be as late as the end of February.
The Devils front office has to make a determination on how they will patch the lineup together in the interim period until Zajac can return to action. The options could range from moving a wing player such as Adam Henrique into centering the line in a “top six” role. Marcus Johansson is also a versatile player that can be used at center, to “man the pivot” on a line.
In addition, the Devils obtained free agent center, Brian Boyle who will pick up ice time most likely centering the third line. The other alternative could be to utilize some of their salary cap space to sign a veteran forward to either play at the center position or plug ice time at a wing position should Henrique move over from the wing to center a line.
The options remaining on the market is a bit thin with Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla, Thomas Vanek, and Shane Doan. Most of those names are veterans with their best years potentially behind them already. The exception is Vanek, who at 33 years old was productive when he was healthy and in the lineup last season. The potential pickup of Vanek would also be the most expensive option to fill the void until Zajac returns to the club.
Travis Zajac has been criticized by some within the fan base of the team because of his contract (which pays him $5.75 million per year) and his productivity for scoring which has tailed off in recent years. The fact remains that Zajac has been remarkably durable over his 11 year NHL career, playing in over 75 games in all but two seasons (one was lockout shortened in which he appeared in every game played, and the other was a season lost to injury) he plays an invaluable role in contributing the intangibles needed to compete and win hockey games.
Devils Head Coach John Hynes is going to be challenged here to shuffle the lines until he finds a solution to offset the loss of Travis Zajac. The team will have to weigh the cost of signing a veteran free agent against the organizational reluctance to expose their young prospects such as Pavel Zacha or Nico Hischier to that many minutes of ice time with a top line.
The Devils are coming off a lackluster 2016-17 season, and the news involving Zajac on Thursday puts them already into a quandary before their training camp even begins. My hope is that this is not a harbinger of things to come.