After eight years with the organization, forward Dainius Zubrus has been placed on unconditional waivers with the purpose of terminating the final year of his contract. The 37-year old Lithuanian had a very counterproductive year that his ice time eventually reflected in the latter half of the season. He had only four goals and ten points in 74 games, a significant decline in production compared to his 2013-2014 numbers when he tallied 13 goals and 26 points in 82 games.
Zubrus was signed to a three-year, $9.3 million extension in the 2013 offseason during an effort by then-GM Lou Lamoriello, to preserve as much of the team that participated in the 2012 playoff run as possible. The $3.1 million he was supposed to receive this season will count towards the salary cap because he was over age of 35 at the time he signed his contract. Nonetheless, New Jersey will still have over $14 million in cap space. General manager Ray Shero cited the main reason behind Zubrus’ contractual termination was to free up another roster spot and give him more flexibility to potentially add another player down the road.
In 554 games as a Devil, Zubrus concludes his time in Newark with totals of 87 goals and 224 points. In 41 playoff games, Zubrus had four goals and 13 points.
As a player, he was the complete opposite of fast, attacking, and supportive in his final years with the Devils. He personified everything that was wrong with the roster: old, slow, and unproductive. His buyout is a testament to the vast difference between Shero and Lamoriello’s approach on handling this roster. Lou was overly loyal to his longtime veteran players whereas Shero makes Zubrus’ contract termination the latest of countless changes the organization has undergone this offseason.
The biggest attribute to Zubrus’ game was his versatility to play any position, anywhere in the lineup. Although he never produced much as a Devil, he always fulfilled whatever role he was designated with. He used his size well in the corners and was difficult for opponents to move in front of the net. Granted he was a resourceful tool at the coaching staff’s disposal, players like Zubrus are dime a dozen. With the direction the Devils are going, it makes sense to give his spot to one of the younger players in the organization.
One of the first signs that should have pointed towards a move of this nature was the signing of left wing Stefan Matteau to a one-way deal. This alone indicated that coaching and management are pushing for the 21-year old to force his way on the roster, along with other young players like Reid Boucher, Paul Thompson, and Sergey Kalinin. With the lack of outside acquisitions Shero made to his forward corps, the termination of Zubrus’ contract all but assures Matteau will have an opportunity to secure a roster spot handed to him on a silver platter.
Like Zubrus, Matteau probably won’t produce much in the NHL, but he’s taking the mold of a serviceable bottom-six forward. Matteau also plays with a noticeable degree of feistiness and physicality in his game that makes him perfect for a grinding-type role on the team, which Zubrus could have played if he utilized his massive frame more in this nature.
Essentially, young players like Matteau that could at least grow from a starting role on the bottom two lines further exploited Zubrus’ expendability.
With the buyout period the Devils got after signing defenseman Adam Larsson to a six-year, $25 million deal, Shero most likely had to choose between Zubrus or Tuomo Ruutu to use it on. Although Ruutu’s cap hit would have completely come off the books if he was chosen, his no-movement clause surely factored into the decision to go with Zubrus, along with the fact that Ruutu is younger, and has a proven track record of producing offensively.
It’s uncertain what lies ahead for Dainius Zubrus as he starts this next chapter of his career. While his performance last season diminishes the likeliness that teams will express interest in him as an unrestricted free agent (let alone taking a chance at claiming him off waivers), it’s not out of the question for a team to offer him an invite to training camp. Zubrus, who had offers to play overseas in 2013, could possibly resort to taking that route if there’s no interest from any NHL teams. He did say he would like to play in the KHL at some point in the future, and since it’s going to be very difficult for him to land another full-time playing role in the NHL, this could be an option for Zubrus if he feels he can still play at the pro-level.
I personally want to thank Dainius Zubrus for his eight years in New Jersey. He could have played elsewhere in 2013, but opted to remain a Devil. While it’s a shame the way things panned out for him in these final few years, it doesn’t change the contributions he’s made to the organization. He was always a serviceable resourceful player that earned the full trust of management and the coaching staff, and won’t soon be forgotten by the Devils’ faithful.