New Jersey Devils fans were prepared to say goodbye to Kyle Palmieri. The writing was on the wall when both the Devils and Palmieri’s camp couldn’t find a happy medium on contract talks. Although Palmieri wasn’t drafted by the Devils, he immediately fit right in and became a fan favorite when the team acquired him in 2015. Even though Devils fans are becoming numb to the fact that the team trades away a lot of its popular players, it doesn’t make it any easier.
Yesterday evening, the Devils traded Palmieri to the New York Islanders. As if it wasn’t sentimental enough to part ways with Palmieri, General Manager Tom Fitzgerald threw a curveball by including lifelong Devil Travis Zajac in the trade. Wait, what? I guess it shouldn’t be all too surprising considering the very same Islanders came calling during the 2020 season to acquire his services, in which Zajac exercised his right to stay with the team given his no-trade clause. When you deal with the Devil (former GM Lou Lamoriello) himself, Zajac couldn’t resist the temptation to join the Islanders a second time around.
This is truly an end of an era. Zajac was drafted with the 20th pick in the 2004 NHL Draft out of the University of North Dakota. Zajac accomplished so much in his career in New Jersey. He played a pivotal role in the Devils’ magical Stanley Cup run in 2012. Without his overtime heroics in Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Florida, there is no ‘Henrique, It’s Over,’ or the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup appearance.
Take a deep dive into the New Jersey Devils record books, you will find Zajac’s name high on the list. Zajac ranks in the top five in goals (202, tied for 3rd), assists (348, 5th), points (550, 3rd), power-play goals (53, tied for 4th), and short-handed goals (12, 4th). Zajac is one of four players in franchise history to play in over 1,000 games (1,024).
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All of those accomplishments pale in comparison to what he meant to the franchise. Zajac is the epitome of what it is to be a Devil. Zajac wore the NJ logo on the jersey with so much pride. He was a leader on the ice and off of it.
Here is the thing with the Devils franchise when former GM Lou Lamoriello was running the show. It was very rare for any player not named Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko, or Patrik Elias to stay more than five years under Lamoriello’s watch. Lamoriello traded Stanley Cup heroes Claude Lemieux and Jason Arnott, John MacLean, Pat Verbeek, Kirk Muller, Aaron Broten, Bill Guerin, and Petr Sykora. No one player was even bigger than the team. Zajac played under Lou Lamoriello for nine seasons until he moved on to become general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. That speaks volumes to the character guy that Zajac was. He bought into New Jersey Devils hockey under the team’s previous regime. It’s very fitting that Lamoriello’s Islanders were the team that acquired Zajac.
Zajac has been with the Devils through good and bad. He transitioned from the winning ways of Devils past to the team’s current rebuild. This officially ends that chapter of Devils hockey as the team is looking forward to its young core to pave the way for success. He played with Devils legends Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias to the new wave of Devils Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. When the team finally does have success, it will be in part because the young players learned from Zajac. It was an absolute joy to watch Zajac play in the Garden State for 15 years. Zajac will always be a revered member of the franchise. The legend of the Jersey Devil lies in the Pine Barrens. Now another Devil looms large in Long Island. Once a Devil always a Devil.