There are still four days to go until Devils center Travis Zajac's arbitration hearing, so there is still time for the sides to reach an agreement and avoid the often-antagonistic process. At this point, howwever, it's looking like there will be a hearing on Friday in Toronto, though Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said he will continue to work to avoid that.
"As of right now, there is nothing that has been settled, so that's the indication (that they will go to a hearing), but you never know," Lamoriello said. "We'll try right up until the last minute (to re-sign Zajac)."
The Devils will still be able to re-sign Zajac after the hearing, but before the arbitrator issues his decision on the award. Usually, the arbitrator has 48 hours to hand down a decision, but, because the hearing is on a Friday, it is possible the decision might not come until Monday (rather than on a Sunday).
After the arbitrator hands down the award, the Devils have 48 hours to either accept the decision or walk away from it, which would make Zajac an unrestricted free agent. Lamoriello has already pretty much said that he won't be walking away from the decision.
Working a deal out before the arbitrator makes a ruling would allow the Devils to sign Zajac for more than two seasons. When the player files for arbitration, the team can only ask for a one- or two-year deal
Lamoriello said he has not decided yet which of those he will ask for.
I left telephone messages today from Zajac and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, this afternoon, but have not heard back from either, yet.
There was a lot of discussion last week of where defenseman Cory Murphy fits into the team's plans, so I asked Lamoriello that question today.
"He's an offensive defenseman with a high-level of skill and you can see what he did when he was in Tampa," Lamoriello said. "We're going to give him an opportunity to see what he can do."
Murphy, 31, signed a one-year, two-way contract with an NHL salary of $500,000 (I haven't found out the AHL salary, yet). The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Kanata, Ontario had five goals and 10 assists in 25 games last season with Tampa Bay after the Lightning claimed him off re-entry waivers from Florida. In 54 games over two season with the Panthers, Murphy had two goals and 16 assists.
If Murphy were to make the Devils, he would give them a rare right-handed shot. Of the other defensemen that will either be on the NHL team or have a chance to make it in training camp, Matt Corrente is the only other one with a right-handed shot.
Lamoriello isn't ready to say that Murphy will definitely be on the team in New Jersey, though.
"I don't know," Lamoriello said. "We're not sure. He's going to be given every opportunity, but we'll see. He's on a two-way contract, so we'll see."
Before signing a two-year deal with Florida in 2007, Murphy, a Colgate University product, played professionally for six seasons in Finland and won the Lasse Oksanen Trophy as the most valuable player of the Finnish League in 2006-07 by putting up 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) in 45 games for HIFK Helsinki.
Why did it take so long for a player with Murphy's offensive numbers to get a chance to play in the NHL?
"The same reason it took Brian Rafalski (so long)," Lamoriello said. "He's not really big in size and sometimes the history of where you played before (plays into it). He was at Colgate University and he was overlooked."
At this point, the Devils have six defensemen on one-way contracts that almost certainly will be on the team in 2009-10 (barring a trade): Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, Colin White, Mike Mottau, Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene. They also have Jay Leach and Murphy, who are older players on two-way contracts and rookies such as Matt Corrente and Tyler Eckford, who will have an opportunity to make the team in training camp.
I asked Lamoriello if he sees the team's defense coming from the players he currently has under contract.
"I see it, but if we will get better, we will," Lamoriello said.
So, it remains possible the the Devils will add another defenseman. Sergei Zubov remains unsigned.