After going unclaimed on unconditional waivers, Dainius Zubrus is no longer a member of the New Jersey Devils and that reality has caught him off guard.
He would have been better prepared for this had it happened during the normal buyout window in June, but at this point he didn’t see it coming. The 37-year-old is hoping that another team will give him a chance to extend his career though.
“At this point, it’s the NHL or nothing. I’m training for the NHL,” Zubrus told NJ Advance Media. “Honestly, I still dream of winning the Stanley Cup. That dream is still there. When summertime training gets tough, I push myself hoping that it will happen.
“I hope to be on a team that makes a good run and gives me a chance.”
He had a chance to talk to Devils GM Ray Shero and understands that this was about clearing up a roster spot. At the same time, Zubrus is aware that he had a “terrible year stats-wise.” He finished with just four goals and 10 points in 74 contests in 2014-15.
He is a veteran of 1,243 games and went to the Stanley Cup Final with Philadelphia in 1997 and New Jersey in 2012, losing both times.
While nothing is imminent, the New Jersey Devils’ decision to buy out Dainius Zubrus has set the table for them to make a trade or free agent signing.
“It really wasn’t about Dainius himself,” Devils GM Ray Shero told The Record. “It was more about the roster spot/flexibility moving forward. … If something comes along and we don’t have a roster spot – not so much the 23-man roster, but up front in terms of let’s say you’re carrying 13 forwards, 14 forwards and you don’t have any spots – then you can’t do anything.”
It certainly wasn’t about freeing up cap space given that Zubrus’ $3.1 million cap hit for 2015-16 will count fully against the team’s books even after the buyout because he was a 35-and-over signing. The Devils are still saving roughly $1 million of this way, but Shero insisted that this wasn’t a financial decision.
There are still teams that are looking to get into a better cap position, such as the Chicago Blackhawks, that Shero might have his eye towards as he clears some room on the team’s roster. There’s also some noteworthy free agent forwards left, including Stephen Weiss, Martin Erat, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jiri Tlusty.
Failing that it gives the Devils an opportunity to have one of their younger players on the roster as New Jersey looks to show signs of progress offensively after spending three straight seasons in the bottom-five in the NHL in terms of goals per game.
The New Jersey Devils are parting ways with Dainius Zubrus.
The club made the announcement today, saying that the 37-year-old forward had been placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.
Zubrus was set to make $3.1 million in 2015-16, after which he would become an unrestricted free agent. He had just four goals and six assists in 74 games last season.
The Devils did not say they were buying out Zubrus, only that his contract was being terminated. New Jersey would not have received cap relief anyway if it was a buyout, as Zubrus’ contract was of the 35-plus variety. The team would have saved around a million bucks in actual salary, however.
It’s possible there was a mutual agreement to terminate Zubrus’ contract, a la Damien Brunner in 2014.
Update: It’s a buyout:
The Devils were afforded an additional buyout window as they had two arbitration cases this offseason.
Patrik Elias is a two-time Stanley Cup champion who has reached the 70-point mark on five separate occasions and is the Devils’ all-time leader in goals (403) and assists (608). He’s also roughly a month away from his 39th birthday and time is catching up with him.
His role with the Devils is naturally diminishing as a result, but there is a limit to what he will do. With Dainius Zubrus and Stephen Gionta currently serving as his linemates, Elias made it clear where he will draw a line in the sand.
“If they want to play me on the fourth line, I’m not willing to do that,” Elias told NJ Advance Media. “I think that’s a conversation I’m going to have after this season. I know what I’m capable of.”
What would happen if he was assigned to a fourth-line role in 2015-16 even after talking with the Devils over the summer?
“I probably wouldn’t (accept) that because I don’t consider myself a fourth line player and I wouldn’t be useful for this team to play that role. Simple,” Elias said.
He also defended his lackluster numbers (10-18-28, 56 GP) by pointing out that the 2014-15 Devils aren’t a high-scoring team.
He’s finishing off the second campaign on his three-year, $16.5 million deal. He’s confident there would be teams interested in him and what remains of his contract if the Devils don’t want him anymore.
For his part, Devils GM and interim coach Lou Lamoriello defended Elias’ role.
“Right now, look at what he’s doing. He’s playing against the top line of every team every night,” Lamoriello said of Elias. “That says a lot for where he is today. Why are we worrying about tomorrow?”
Elias says Devils never approached him about a trade
Ryan Hartman didn’t want to waste any time before making a strong first impression with the Chicago Blackhawks. In the first shift of his NHL debut, Hartman plowed his way through Devils forward Dainius Zubrus:
Hartman has 18 points and 81 penalty minutes in 47 contests in his first full AHL season. He was taken by Chicago with the 30th pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
The 20-year-old forward’s hometown is near Chicago, so he naturally had plenty of family that was able to attend Friday’s contest after he was called up from the minors Thursday night.
“I just have to think of it as another hockey game. That’s how you’re going to play your best is taking it one game at a time, one period at a time,” Hartman told CSN Chicago before the contest started. “I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”