Continuing their offseason of change, the Devils used their final buyout window of the offseason to terminate the contract of long-time Devil forward Danius Zubrus. Zubrus had a 35+ contract and as such the Devils received no cap savings for the buyout, but also will not have a dead cap hit on their ledger after this year. With the team barely above the salary floor, carrying Zubrus’s cap hit this year wasn’t an issue though. According to GM Ray Shero, the issue was more one of roster flexibility – indicating FA signings and trade acquisitions are still a possibility. Although the GM didn’t say it, Zubrus’s age and mileage was also a concern given the team’s new fast, attacking and supportive motto. Zubrus wasn’t the speediest forward in his prime but would seem not to fit into coach John Hynes’ system at 37 years old coming off his worst season in the NHL.
Will this be the end of the line for a respected veteran of 1243 NHL games (plus another 92 in the playoffs)? People might not realize Zubrus has been playing in the league since 1996, when he was a teenage rookie with the Flyers. For context, Martin Brodeur was in his fourth full season with the Devils that year. Looking at his career, I forgot he was some of the places he was – Montreal, Washington and briefly Buffalo before signing here as a free agent during the summer of 2007 at what was thought to be a long six-year deal. Although Zubrus put up 38 and 40 points in his first two seasons with the team, he was miscast as a top-line center and wing, trying to replace the production of departing free agents like Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. After two more meh seasons, Zubrus had a career reinassance in 2011-12 with not only his best regular season as a Devil (17-27-44 with a +7) – but was a key factor in the team’s playoff run with ten points in 24 games and more importantly stellar board work and cycling, which became his true hallmark as a Devil. Well that and the myriad of jokes that stemmed from Zubrus being the locker room deejay.
Unfortunately, Zubrus was never the same after suffering a wrist injury early in the 2013 lockout season, and after signing a three-year deal during the summer of 2013. After a 13-goal, 26 point season in 2013-14 (where he still played every game and at times early last season gave the top line with Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac a spark), Zubrus cratered to four goals, six assists and a -9 in 74 games last season, where you could argue he was the worst forward in the NHL – or at least the worst one consistently getting ten plus minutes. At his age and with his miles it’s hard to envision him getting anything beyond a tryout contract this summer, but if this is it for him he would be able to leave the NHL with nothing to be ashamed of though unfortunately, our playoff run in 2012 that came up short was his best chance to win a Cup. Zubrus was the prototypical Devil for a long time, unselfish, playing a physical game and willing to change positions and roles for the good of the team. And heck, how can you not like a guy that has ‘interesting’ taste in music and will consistently play the straight man to the one-man comedy act that was Jagr in 2013-14?
While his best individual performance as a Devil was his random four-goal game against the Lightning several years ago, arguably his most important game was in Game 4 against the Flyers where he scored twice, including the tie-breaking goal in the YouTube above. Best of luck with whatever you do next, Zubie.