After one thousand plus games, a pandemic and a retirement, the New Jersey Devils and their fans finally get to celebrate the career of Travis Zajac tonight.
Travis Zajac was a good team player for the New Jersey Devils for a good, long time. Appearing in 1,037 regular season NHL contests, with all but 13 of them coming for the Devils, Zajac made the decision prior this season to hang up the skates from game action. he hasn’t hung up the skates entirely, however, as he continues to work around Devils practices, developing the the next generation of New Jersey players.
Zajac was given the opportunity to return to the Devils this past summer after being traded to the Islanders, but instead opted to sign a one day contract to retire with the team that drafted him way back in 2004. Developing into one of the better two-way/defensive centers in the league, Zajac played an important role in the team’s success leading up to their surprising 2012 Stanley Cup run.
The years that followed would not be kind; as important players left the Devils via free agency, retirement (be it real or otherwise) or through trade to eventually supplement a rebuild/attempted retool, Zajac would remain as a veteran constant. Even after the Devils traded defensive stalwart Andy Greene, Zajac stayed to help mentor the younger Devils. As the team continued to trend younger, Zajac came closer and closer to hitting the 1,000 game milestone. He eventually would, albeit later than anyone initially anticipated both due to the pandemic as well as some injuries to Travis.
Last season, the Devils would get to celebrate as he finally hit the milestone, however attendance was not allowed at the game due to the league’s protocols. While there was still staff and select others in the building, the general population was excluded from the celebration. Tonight, with a game against the Winnipeg Jets (where Travis was born), the Devils and we the fans get to celebrate proper.
While we have seen some celebrations in the past, hopefully we are privy to relive some of Zajac’s most famous moments, as YouTube has helped me to compile below:
While these videos do not encompass the entirety of Zajac’s career, they certainly are some of the more memorable moments from the last time the Devils were relevant, and he was a big part of that relevance. When Zajac was in his prime, there was always argument over his value to the team, both perceived and actual. In retrospect now, I think a lot more fans can appreciate what Zajac brought to the team; was he a true #1 center? No, not really, however when he was pushed into that role by default, he performed as well as he could while providing his utmost effort on the ice every night.
The argument could be made that he was overpaid on his largest contract. The argument could be made that the Devils needed a #1 center to insulate Zajac for some length of that contract. What can’t be argued is the heart he played with, the fact that the crest on the front, always meant more than the name on the back. Travis Zajac was all about the jersey that he wore (cheap pop intended) and tonight, we finally get to honor him the right way. Make The Rock loud tonight fellow Devils fans.
Travis has more than earned it.
What are your thoughts on the career Zajac had? What moment(s) stands out to you the most? Do you have any fond memories of him not captured by video? What are your hopes for his contributions to the organization in retirement over the long run? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading.