The New Jersey Devils were the team that took front-loaded contracts to the extreme.
They are now the first team to sign a key player to an extension under the new collective-bargaining agreement.
Center Travis Zajac signed for eight years, the maximum allowed under the CBA for teams re-signing their own players. It’s worth $46 million, or a cap hit of $5.75 million a year.
But it’s structured much differently from the back-diving Ilya Kovalchuk contract that led to a punishment for the Devils and contributed to a CBA fight over contract lengths and variance. CBA rules prevent that now.
Zajac’s contract pays less up front and peaks in the middle before dropping down. The breakdown: $3.5 million in 2013-14, followed by $5 million, four years of $6.5 million and two years of $5.75 million.
His first year is less than the $4.8 million that the No. 1 center was scheduled to make this season before the lockout. But with the cap going down next season, a bigger contract might have resulted in a bigger escrow hit.
Zajac, 27, is coming off a season in which he missed 67 games because of offseason Achilles tendon surgery. He played throughout the playoffs, getting 14 points in 24 games during the Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. Before last season, he had missed only two games in his career.
The Devils’ 2004 No. 1 pick has 91 goals and 255 points in 423 career regular-season games. His best season was 25 goals and 42 assists in 2009-10.
Zajac would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the extension negotiations had begun before the lockout and resumed afterward.
“Travis is a core player on the team, a core leader and a pure Devil,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters.