Last week longtime New Jersey Devil Travis Zajac decided to call it a career and retire. He has had himself quite the NHL career, to say the least. He was drafted by the Devils in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft with the 20th overall selection. Since then he has made quite the impact for the organization. Even though he couldn’t quite finish his career in New Jersey, he still managed to play 14 seasons with them. This led to him being one of the Devils’ all-time leaders in games played, goals, assists, and points. He was also able to keep himself relevant in some NHL award races, which included the Frank J. Selke and Lady Byng Award.
A lot of people outside of New Jersey don’t seem to realize his true impact and leadership, which is why the organization should consider retiring his number. This stance might be somewhat controversial. However, when looking at Zajac’s career from a different perspective, he actually has himself a legitimate case.
Zajac Was Actually Making History
When looking into the rafters at the Prudential Center, it’s clear that Patrik Elias is the only forward to have his number retired by the Devils. The rest of the players, with the exception of Marty Brodeur (goalie), are defensemen. This means that Zajac would hypothetically be the second forward in Devils history to his number retired. Obviously, there have been a lot great of players in Devils history to not have their respective numbers retired. Some of those players include Bruce Driver, Bryce Salvador, Sergei Brylin, and John MacLean. However, Zajac has few things that tip the odds back into his favor.
The first thing is games played. Zajac logged 1,024 career games played for the Devils organization. That’s a lot of games played with one organization. He was actually on pace to play 1,200 games with the Devils at one point in his career. Had that happened a jersey retirement honor for him wouldn’t have been in question.
This is mainly because no player has ever appeared in 1,200 career games with the same organization and not had their jersey number retired. But since Zajac wasn’t able to do so, it makes his case harder, yet still plausible. He was only able to appear in 15 regular season games during the 2011-12 season, however a couple of other seasons also hindered his potential milestone.
For example, after the 2011-12 season concluded, the NHL went into a lockout, which resulted in the season almost being cut in half. So, while he was still able to lead the league in games played that year, those games other games could’ve been crucial. The same could be said for this past year, when the season had to be shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he was still able to make the most out of his appearances. Despite a few shortened seasons, he still ranks fourth all-time in games played in Devils history.
Why Does Zajac Deserve to Have His Number Retired?
If a couple of those NHL seasons weren’t shortened, then Zajac could’ve padded his stats a little bit better. However, I’m certain that the Devils organization would hypothetically take that sort of narrative into consideration if the question were to ever arise. Aside from games played, he is ranked relatively high amongst other all-time Devils records.
In terms of scoring, Elias is the all-time Devils leader in points, goals, and assists. However, Zajac was never too far behind as he ranked third all-time in goals (202), fifth in assists (348), and third in points (550). Ahead of him in some of those categories are other well-known Devils players, MacClean and Scott Gomez. The argument could be made that McClean would’ve already had his jersey number retired had his stint in New Jersey not have ended so bitterly due to contract disputes. Also, him playing for the New York Rangers, the Devils’ arch rival, at some point certainly didn’t help things. His later coaching stint with the Devils probably hurt too.
As for Gomez, he is nowhere close in terms of games played with the organization compared to Zajac. While Zajac might not have the most accomplishments in the NHL, he still has had a very successful career. In the all-time Devils rankings his name is right there with a bunch of players who already have their numbers retired. His overall career is very similar Teppo Numminen, who had his number retired by the Arizona Coyotes franchise. Despite never winning a Stanley Cup, and other accolades, Numminen was apart of the organization for over a decade and was able to play in 1,098 career games with them. Zajac’s scoring numbers are also better than his in less games played.
So, when thinking about Zajac possibly getting his number retired, it’s not that much of a far-fetched idea. When looking at his entire career with the Devils and his all-time scoring ranking, he hits the mark.
Trey Matthews is currently the play-by-play announcer for the hockey programs at Adrian College. Interestingly, he is also one of the only full-time black hockey play-by-play announcers in the entire country. He has been featured in USA Today, USCHO, & others for his line of work. In addition to that, he’s also the host of a podcast show called Locked On Devils. He first began writing for his high school’s paper at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy. Aside from hockey, he also covers the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) for Belly Up Sports.