Travis Zajac Is Out 4-6 Months With A Torn Pec, Annnd The Devils Are Officially Out Of The Playoff Race
I'm not saying that Travis Zajac needs someone to babysit him during his offseason workouts, but - from here on it - it might be wise of the Devils to invest in an overly cautious spotter...
Annnnyway, it's pretty depressing to have your eyes painfully held open to just how blind your optimism might have been before training camp even starts. A potential playoff berth was already a pipe dream, but that pipe just burst with the news that the New Jersey Devils will be without their most well-rounded, defensively responsible forward for half the season.
For all the criticism that he gets from fans that don't understand anything that takes place outside of a box score, Travis Zajac's presence is more important to the Devils' success than any one thing he does on the ice. Whether it be winning face-offs, killing penalties, or letting his linemates play it a little faster and looser in their own end, the guy just makes the jobs of those around him that much easier. It's that type of two way, versatile play that allowed him to anchor a surprisingly dominant line (Hall-Zajac-Palmieri) - albeit on a terrible offensive team - while only putting up 45 points. It was undeniably evident how important he was to the lineup when his injury coincided with the Devils crash back to earth two seasons ago, and it will be just as obvious when his extensive absence has the locker room looking younger than that one shitty college bar that doesn't check ID's.
If you really wanted to look on the bright side then this terrible, awful, no good, very bad news doesn't really do all that much to derail the Devils' unrealistic hopes of being relevant. The influx of youth - however promising it may be - was already going to have them fighting an uphill battle. Expecting rookies to carry the workload of a #1 center (even if he's probably better off as a #2 center) isn't going to make that hill any less steep. That said, this all but guarantees that New Jersey will get to see what they have in Michael McLeod (and potentially Blake Speers) sooner rather than later, and featuring Nico Hischier in a role he might not be ready for will show exactly how far away he is from being the player they thought they selected first overall. If nothing else, Pavel Zacha will get every opportunity to flourish in what should be a season that's very telling of his development.
In a way that won't come anywhere close to translating to more wins, this could make the Devils somewhat more exciting. Assuming, of course, that an injury on offense can't be all that disastrous to a team that is still without a blueline, Travis Zajac's newly vacant spot in the lineup is going to give a bunch of unproven guys the chance to sink or swim. Losing a versatile player who is better at defense than the actual defense for an extended period of time is never good, but at least the roster hopefuls know that they'll have to work their way out of floaties by the end of training camp.