Zajac could be Kovy cap casualty

While the hockey world waits for the NHL’s verdict on the re-submitted contract for LW Ilya Kovalchuk, the New York Post wonders who goes if Kovalchuk stays. The Dallas Stars are thought to be a possible destination for D Bryce Salvador, with Dainius Zubrus – a target we looked at a little Friday – also mentioned. Other possibilities are far more complicated given no-trade-clauses in their contracts, but one name may cause the faithful to groan at the continually rising cost to keep the Russian sniper.

According to a new blog post from the Post early this morning, C Travis Zajac is rumored to be on the trading block should Kovalchulk’s deal be approved. The center makes $3.89 million per season, which would help solve the Devils’ salary cap concerns, but he also put up 67 points last year as the team’s top pivot.

On one hand, trading Zajac would be a serious hit to this team, as newly acquired C Jason Arnottwould inherit top-line duties and the Devils would likely have to promote their second-line center from within the organization. On the other, the trade market for Zajac would be far more lucrative than for either Salvador or Zubrus, meaning GM Lou Lamoriello could earn some decent low-salary pieces for the future (prospects, draft picks) in return. The Washington Capitals have been searching for a second-line center all summer and would almost certainly be interested in Zajac. The Caps also have one of the deepest farm systems in hockey and could send the Devs some solid value.

But even then it's far from an ideal solution. There is a thought that centers and defensemen are the building blocks of Stanley Cup champions in today’s NHL, with the elite blue line of the Detroit Red Wings (2008 champions) and Chicago Blackhawks (’10), and the three-deep center corps of the Pittsburgh Penguins (’09) often used as examples.

Should the Devils move Zajac, his most likely replacement is Swedish C Jacob Josefson (drafted 20th overall in 2009), ranked as the second-best prospect in New Jersey’s system (behind Mattias Tedenby).

Josefson spent last season playing in his native country (20 points in 43 regular-season games for Djurgardens), but inked an entry-level deal with the Devils in May. Thought to be a heady, two-way player capable of reaching the NHL this season, he may now play a far more pivotal role than expected.

Trading the 25-year-old Zajac just as he enters his prime is certainly not an appealing avenue for the Devils to pursue, but the team will have to do something to clear the necessary space, thought to be at least $3.07M.

The Post's speculation on Zajac is only attributed to rumors, and it's doubtful he's the team's top trade option. But with so many players enjoying no-trade clauses in their contracts (Patrik Elias, Colin White, Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner and Johan Hedbergamong them), Zajac may not be as far from the top of the list as you might think.

Morning Links

  • Lamoriello told Fire and Ice he feels confident about the contract and that it will be approved by the NHL. We could hear as early as today. Wednesday is deadline day. Also, one small detail has emerged: The first year of Kovalchuk’s contract pays $6M.

  • In Lou We Trust wonders when Mike Mottau will be signed.