After a long contract negotiation with the Devils finally reached an end late Tuesday night, center Travis Zajac can now look forward to the 2009-10 season -- and his wedding coming up next month in Winnipeg rather than worry about an arbitration hearing on Friday.
Zajac signed a four-year contract for a total of $15.55 million or an average -- and cap hit of -- $3,887,500. The new deal pays him $2.75 million in 2009-10, $3.5 million in 2010-11, $4.5 million in 2011-12 and $4.8 million in 2012-13.
His average salary is the fourth highest on the Devils behind only Patrik Elias ($6 million cap hit), Martin Brodeur ($5.2 million) and Brian Rolston ($5.062 million).
Last season, Zajac made $984,200.
"I'm glad we got a deal done and I'm excited," Zajac told me this morning.
Zajac said that both sides wanted a longer-term deal.
"I think we both were in the same ballpark for the term of the deal," he said. "I'm happy to be with the Devils for four years and I'm excited about the team next year and the coach and ready to go."
Zajac wasn't sure what to expect from the arbitration hearing.
"You don't want to (go to arbitration)," he said. "It's sort of a last option. I really didn't know what was going to happen, but I'm just glad we were able to come to terms and now I can get ready for this new year."
Zajac claimed there was no particular roadblock in the negotiations.
"It was more just that we wanted to be comfortable with the deal along with the Devils," he said. "We did get something done that we're both comfortable with and we're excited for the future."
Zajac was pleased with the way he bounced back in 2008-09 after struggling through his second year in the NHL.
"I think I had a good year," he said. "There's still a lot of room for improvement. After my second year, I learned a lot. I realized how hard you have to compete and work to be successful. After that second year, I've had the right attitude. I've worked hard and all I want to do is learn and get better and try and become a better player. Right now, we have a great group of guys. We've got a great mix of young guys and draft picks that are great players and we have some core guys, veteran guys that are in the locker room. So, it's a great mix and it's going to be an exciting team this year."
With veterans such as Brian Gionta and John Madden moving on via free agency, there is room for younger players such as Zajac, 24, to move up into leadership roles. He welcomes that opportunity.
"I'm definitely capable of being a leader," he said. "I'm building towards that. I want to be a guy that can help out the younger guys or say something in the locker room. I've learned from a lot of the older guys here that have won before and I've still got some things to learn, but I'm ready to take that next step to become more of a leader."
Former Devils coach Brent Sutter pushed Zajac hard during the 2007-08 season to become a better player and it paid off in 2008-09. Zajac appreciates what Sutter did for him, but is also looking forward to playing for new head coach Jacques Lemaire.
"Obviously, the situation wasn't great for (Sutter) and his family and that comes first," Zajac said. "It's tough to see him go, but I'm happy that he's still able to coach and be part of the NHL. I'm sure he loves that. I learned a lot from him, but, with that said, I'm excited about Jacques coming in. He's been in the league for a while. He's won before. I'm looking forward to learning some new things from him."