Cross Checks: Travis Zajac

Jamie Benn, P.K. Subban and Ryan O’Reilly remained unsigned Tuesday as the season hurled itself into warp speed, thanks to a compressed schedule.

Of the three RFAs, my gut feeling says Benn will be the first of the three to sign. But that’s not sure thing.

I just don’t think they’re that far apart.

Look no further than the obvious comparables to see which deals are influencing this negotiation:

• John Tavares, six years, $33 million ($5.5 million average)
• Evander Kane, six years, $31.5 million ($5.25 million cap hit)
• Phil Kessel, five years, $27 million ($5.4 million cap hit)

Those are good comparisons because Benn is also coming off an entry-level contract and is a key offensive force on his team, just like those three players.

First off, the Benn camp won’t do six years. So there’s that. Benn has moved though from wanting three years to now being willing do to five years.

My guess is if the Stars were willing to sign off on something just north financially of the Kessel deal, then a deal will be done.

Also keep in mind, Benn's entry-level deal didn’t have any bonus money. So you can understand his desire to get paid now.

Meanwhile, the Subban and O’Reilly fronts are still very much in stalemate.

Colorado, I believe, has offered a two-year, $7 million deal to O’Reilly, which is the same deal teammate Matt Duchene signed. But O’Reilly led the team in scoring last season and that offer won’t cut it. He remains in the KHL, where he’s making good money, tax-free, so he’s got that leverage.

In Montreal, meanwhile, status quo on the Subban situation. There has been nothing there for a while between both sides. The offensive blue-liner wants a long-term deal while the Habs want to do a two-year contract. So until that philosophical divide is overcome, this thing isn’t going anywhere.

Leverage points: the Habs power play on opening night was brutal, which helped P.K.’s case.

However, the recent two-year deals signed by offensive blue-liners, also RFAs, Michael Del Zotto and Dmitry Kulikov help GM Marc Bergevin’s case.

Bergevin insists he’s not going to trade Subban but one can’t help but wonder if this thing drags on too long if he’ll have to reconsider.

One thing is clear, Montreal’s insistence on doing a short-term deal signals that the Habs just aren’t sure about what they have in Subban just quite yet.

As Luongo Waits

Eyebrows were raised Tuesday when veteran Vancouver Sun columnist Cam Cole quoted Canucks GM Mike Gillis saying there’s essentially a trade that could happen with an unidentified NHL team, but it depends on that team being able to move a player first.

Gillis confirmed the same in an email to Tuesday.

All I know is that that team is not Toronto, which remains the most logical destination, no matter what anybody says, given Toronto’s goalie issues. The Leafs and Canucks have had on-again, off-again dialogue since last June, although there’s been a detente in talks of late as both teams wait out the other early in this season, hoping wins and losses will change the leverage in that conversation.

And what of Philadelphia? My guess is that the Flyers’ only interest in Luongo would come in the summer and that’s only if A) Luongo is still in Vancouver and B) Ilya Bryzgalov had another brutal season. If Bryzgalov hasn’t rebounded, it wouldn’t shock me to see Philly use a compliance buyout on the goalie (which doesn’t count vs. the cap) and then try to trade for Luongo. A lot of ifs there and we’re talking about months from now. So much can happen in between, not the least of which is Bryzgalov having a good season and staying in Philadelphia, and Vancouver moving Luongo elsewhere during the season.

In the meantime, Luongo has been the ultimate pro about it all, waiting patiently for this to figure itself out.

For the Canucks, they are trying to get something in return that helps further their cause as a contender right now. And Canucks management shared that sentiment with Luongo last weekend, explaining that they’re trying to get something in return for him that will help his teammates in Vancouver take another run at the Cup.

So far, the Canucks have been offered good pieces, just not the right ones.

And so the waiting continues. This is a deal that could honestly get done this week, next week, next month or next summer. Be ready for anything.

Team Canada For Sochi

I traded emails with Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman on Tuesday, wondering about when he would announce his coaching staff for the Sochi Games.

Yzerman said he would wait until the NHL commits players to Sochi 2014 before announcing his coaching staff. Makes sense, of course.

Another source told that the Team Canada management staff hasn’t decided yet who for sure would be part of the staff. There has been internal discussion but no final decisions made.

Certainly, reigning Olympic gold medal coach Mike Babcock remains the favorite.

But there are certainly a lot of names you can throw in the mix as you figure out who could be part of the staff.

Dave Tippett, Claude Julien, Barry Trotz, Alain Vigneault, Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock and the list goes on an on, Canada has no shortage of quality coaches to choose from.

Senators Still Looking

Off to a quick 2-0 start, the Senators still feel they need more depth on the blue-line despite the solid play of rookie defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit, who have dressed as the third pairing.

The broken finger to Mike Lundin and the season-ending hip surgery to Jared Cowen opened the door for the two AHL grads to make Ottawa’s roster.

But veteran GM Bryan Murray says he’ll continue to make phone calls, even if so far those calls have produced very little.

"Not much has presented itself. I’ve talked to a number of teams and I hear the same story from a number of general managers -- everybody is looking for depth on the blue-line," Murray told Tuesday. "I don’t know that there will be many quick deals made at this point. But that’s not to say we’re not talking. We’ll look and if we can find somebody that upgrades us, we will. We’d got Lundin coming back at some point, so we’re not in a panic, but if we can get a more experienced guy, we’re certainly going to pursue it."

Lundin is getting the pins removed from his finger later this week.

"And he needs a couple of weeks after that, I think," said Murray.

Out in Los Angeles, the Kings are also one of the many teams on the lookout for help on defense and that was even before losing Matt Greene to a long-term injury.

L.A. was among the teams that pressed hard in an effort to land Wade Redden last week but lost out to St. Louis.

If the Kings ever trade Jonathan Bernier, and there’s no guarantee they will, they’ll be getting a defenseman as part of the deal.

Escrow Protection

Two early-season contract extensions tell you that some agents are wisely weary of what next season might have in store for players in the form of escrow payments.

Each of the new extensions for Alexander Edler and Travis Zajac have compensation in the first season of the deal (2013-14), the lowest of any in the contract. This is because there’s fear escrow might be at its highest next season as the salary cap drops to $64.3 million, down from the $70.2 million teams can spend this season.

Edler’s new deal is worth an average of $5 million per season but his actual compensation next season is $3.25 million. It jumps to $6 million from 2015-16 through 2017-18 before dropping to $4.5 million in the last season.

Zajac, as I wrote last week, begins at $3.5 million next season in a deal that pays him an average of $5.75 million per season.

Smart moves by the agents in question, Kurt Overhardt (Zajac) and Mark Stowe (Edler).

Power UFAs
Two names to keep an eye on: Ryane Clowe and David Clarkson.

Both are valued power forwards in the NHL and both are slated to be UFAs July 5.

The Sharks, I hear, have had preliminary talks with Clowe. Nothing yet between Clarkson and the Devils.
And the first marquee contract of the new CBA goes to … the New Jersey Devils!

Some interesting observations accompany the eight-year, $46 million contract extension signed by center Travis Zajac on Wednesday.

But first, let’s break down the deal:
2013-14 $3.5 million (includes $1 million in signing bonus)
2014-15 $5 million (includes $1 million in signing bonus)
2015-16 $6.5 million
2016-17 $6.5 million
2017-18 $6.5 million
2018-19 $6.5 million
2019-20 $5.75 million
2020-21 $5.75 million

The contract also includes a full no-trade clause throughout and, of course, is not front-loaded like the back-diving deals of the past CBA; the salary variance rule in the new CBA having its impact right off the hop.

Also, notice how the lowest salary amount comes next season in 2013-14 at $3.5 million? My guess is, Zajac’s camp, led by agent Kurt Overhardt, figured to protect against possible escrow payments. Certainly with the salary-cap allowance going down from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season, escrow is a real possibility depending on how hockey-related revenue grows.

So a smart move by Overhardt and overall a heck of a contract done by the veteran agent.

Not sure most people would have pegged Zajac at $5.75 million a year. But I think it speaks to the respect Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has for his No. 1 center, and a strong belief that Zajac’s best hockey is front of him. I agree on that.

Even more importantly, this is a franchise that just lost its captain and superstar in winger Zach Parise. The Devils played out the string with him last season until he walked at the 11th hour into unrestricted free agency and signed with Minnesota.

That memory was obviously fresh in Lamoriello’s mind when tackling Zajac’s situation.

From a CBA perspective, it will be interesting to see if this deal sets a trend.

For starters, does this mean the eight-year contract term maximum in the new CBA (seven years if he’s a player changing teams) will act as a magnet?

Tough to say after only one deal. I think it’s still going to depend on each player’s respective position. In fact, my understanding is that center Jamie Benn in Dallas is actually looking for a short-term deal with the Stars.

So time will tell if this truly represents a trend, core players signing to the max eight years to stay on board.

Speaking of Benn, I wouldn’t get too carried away with how Zajac’s contract might affect the Stars’ ability to re-sign their star center. For starters, Zajac was slated to be an unrestricted free agent in July, while the younger Benn is a restricted free agent. So it’s not an apples to apples comparison. Still, I’m sure it was noticed in the Stars' front office. Just like it was in Colorado, where the Avs are trying re-sign restricted free-agent center Ryan O'Reilly.

No matter how you slice it, an intriguing early signing by the Devils in the early days of this new CBA.

Morning jam: NJD-FLA game facts

April, 25, 2012
• Travis Zajac’s goal at 5:39 of the first overtime to life the Devils to a 3-2 victory over the Panthers to force a Game 7 in their first-round playoff series. Each of the last six overtime games in the 2012 playoffs ended within the first six minutes. The average length of overtime in this year’s NHL playoffs is 7:33, which would be the lowest in one playoff year since 1986 when the 11 overtime games ended in an average of 4:19 into OT.