With Lou Lamoriello in the fold with the Maple Leafs, it appears that he is interested in bringing more of his friends along for the ride. According to Elliotte Friedman in his latest 30 thoughts, Lamoriello would be interested in bringing his prime draftee Travis Zajac to Toronto.
In his nine NHL seasons since being drafted as a first round pick in 2004, Zajac has had a respectable career. In 625 career games, he has recorded 127 goals and 221 assists for 348 points, while playing relatively injury-free hockey. Zajac has been a good soldier for the Devils and a favourite of Lamoriello’s, but the Leafs need to stay away from him.
Zajac’s contract should be a major red flag. He’s 30 and has not hit the 50 points since 2010, yet is on the books for $5.75MM until July 1, 2021. The Maple Leafs have the cash to handle his contract, but do they really want to keep him and his contract for six years?
William Nylander, Mitch Marner and numerous other players will be ready to take on key roles by then. Do the Leafs really want to pay a 36-year-old veteran who will take away ice time from players who are in their primes?
Even if the Leafs move him down to the third line, $5 million is a lot to pay for a bottom-six forward.
When looking towards the future, trading for Zajac will mortgage the team and cause cap issues down the road. This team is rebuilding, but that doesn’t mean they can take a flier on this terrible long-term contract.
If brought to Toronto today, Zajac would provide the Leafs with a versatile two-way centre for their top line. He’s a veteran with a decent track record and would instantly improve their top-six.
He would also take away playing time from Nazem Kadri, who is looking to win the number-one centre job. One of the Leafs major goals for this season is to see what Kadri is capable of when given the opportunities he hasn’t gotten in the past. Acquiring Zajac would make certain that Kadri stays on the second line, where he has always been.
It’s not like his 25 points would cut it for a first line centre in today’s NHL either. At best he’d pencil in as a second-line pivot who plays a sound two-way game, brings a veteran presence and provides a little bit of offence to boot.
When you look at what the New Jersey Devils could be looking for in exchange for Zajac, the deal becomes even more ludicrous. The obvious option would be Tyler Bozak, as the Devils would need a center to replace Zajac. However, the Devils are reportedly looking at a package that contains either James van Riemsdyk or Kadri.
Those are two of the top Leafs players on offence who will either carry them through the rebuild or land them valuable assets for the future. The Leafs don’t want to trade either of those two for a declining forward.
It is also important to remember that Zajac has a full no-trade clause and ultimately controls his own destiny. Unless he decides to waive his no-move to reunite with Lamoriello, he’s under contract with the Devils until 2020-21.
For a team nearing the end of a rebuild, a player with Stanley Cup experience is an added benefit. However, the Leafs are kicking off their rebuild and wouldn’t need Zajac’s full services for another three or four seasons. By then he would be 34 and taking away ice time (and cap space) from the players who are ready to step into the limelight.
If the Leafs were farther along in their rebuild trading for Zajac would make more sense. Right now, they should avoid mortgaging their future and focus on letting their core develop.