NHL Free Agents: How Travis Zajac's New Contract Impacts Jamie Benn, P.K. Subban

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IJanuary 16, 2013

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 30:  Travis Zajac #19 of the New Jersey Devils looks on against the Los Angeles Kings during Game One of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Prudential Center on May 30, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Travis Zajac and the New Jersey Devils completed the first major signing using the rules established by the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on Wednesday, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

Devils sign Zajac to eight-year deal worth $46 million ($5.75 million average)

— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) January 16, 2013

The eight-year term is the maximum amount allowed under the new CBA. Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.ca reported the salary breakdown of Zajac's new deal:

#Devils Travis Zajac no trade 8yrs 46M deal.No more front loaded money. Case in pt. 1st yr 3.5M. 2 yr 5M, 3rd-6th yr 6.5M. Last two 5.75M.

— Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper) January 16, 2013

What does Zajac's new deal mean for the 2013 free-agent class this summer and how will it impact the star players currently negotiating contracts such as Jamie Benn, P.K. Subban and Ryan O'Reilly? Let's break it all down.


The Impact on Jamie Benn, Ryan O'Reilly and P.K. Subban

Zajac's new contract is great news for Jamie Benn because not only is Benn a better player, he is more important to the Dallas Stars than Zajac is to the Devils.

Kypreos reported on Sunday that the Stars were willing to go to $5 million per season to re-sign Benn, but after seeing Zajac receive an average salary of $5.75 million, Dallas may have to increase future offers to $6 million per season.

The term of Zajac's deal is also something for Benn's agent to bring up in negotiations with Stars management. Zajac is 27 years old and still got an eight-year deal, whereas Benn is only 23 years of age and still a few years away from the prime of his career.

Here's how Zajac's stats compare to Benn's.

  2010-11         2011-12      
Player GP G A PTS -- GP G A PTS
Jamie Benn 69 22 34 56   71 26 37 63
Travis Zajac 82 13 31 44   15 2 4 6

It's clear that Benn is not only a better goal scorer, but also a better playmaker than the Devils center. He's not as good defensively as Zajac, but Benn is certainly worth more than the Devils forward and would likely receive a lot more than $5.75 million per season if he hit the free-agent market in the near future.

After seeing what Zajac was able to earn in the first major contract signed since the lockout, Benn should not accept anything less than an eight-year, $48 million contract from the Stars. A 23-year-old franchise player deserves a better deal than a second-line center such as Zajac.

As for P.K. Subban, it's often difficult to compare contracts between a forward like Zajac and a defenseman such as Subban, but there are some similarities in both situations.

They're both very important to the current and future success of their respective franchises and are young pieces that you can build an offense (Zajac) or a blue line (Subban) around.

Subban is worth $5 million per season to the Canadiens, especially if his new contract is five years or more in length. By the end of a five-plus-year deal, a $5 million cap hit for a player like Subban would be great for Montreal.

With Zajac getting an average salary of $5.75 million, Subban now has an even stronger case to earn a similar salary.

The new Zajac deal may also help restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly, although the Colorado Avalanche forward doesn't have the same NHL experience as Zajac and his team has plenty of center depth even with his absence from training camp.

The outcome of Benn's situation will probably impact O'Reilly's next contract more than Zajac's deal will. Benn and O'Reilly have a similar amount of NHL experience and are restricted free agents, whereas Zajac was eligible to become a UFA this summer.


The Impact on the 2013 Free-Agent Class

The 2013 free-agent class is still a deep one despite Zajac signing a new contract. Here are the top centers eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 5.

Player Current Team Age 2012-13 Salary Cap Hit
Ryan Getzlaf Anaheim Ducks 27 $5.325 million
Mike Ribeiro Washington Capitals 32 $5 million
Stephen Weiss Florida Panthers 29 $3.1 million
Patrik Elias New Jersey Devils 36 $6 million
Tyler Bozak Toronto Maple Leafs 26 $1.5 million
Roman Cervenka Calgary Flames 27 $3.775 million
Derek Roy Dallas Stars 29 $4 million

It's unlikely that Zajac's deal will have a huge impact on these centers available in the summer from a salary perspective.

He is a better player than everyone listed above except Ryan Getzlaf. The next best centers available are Mike Ribeiro and Stephen Weiss.

Riberio should earn a $5 million salary in his next contract if he has a good season with the Capitals and Weiss will get a nice raise if he shines for the Panthers.

Where Zajac's new deal could affect the upcoming free-agent class is contract term. After seeing Zajac get an eight-year deal, expect a lot of players to demand this kind of term when negotiating in the summer.

If teams don't offer their young stars the eight-year max, they may risk losing these players to free agency. In some cases, contract term is more important than the yearly salary.

Since we have the first big contract following the NHL lockout, we could see more extensions happening soon. Teams now have an example to use when negotiating with star players under the new CBA.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.


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