As general manager Tom Fitzgerald and the New Jersey Devils enter a monumental offseason, questions surround the future of restricted free agent Pavel Zacha.
Zacha’s six years with New Jersey has been full of ups and downs. After performing well in the shortened 2020-21 season, there were times in 2021-22 where the 2015 sixth-overall pick seemed to have turned the corner and others where his nightly spot in the lineup was called into question. The 25-year-old did, however, reach his career-high in points as he recorded 36 (15 goals, 21 assists) in 70 games last season.
While Zacha could be a serviceable piece in the team’s middle-six going forward, the reality of the situation is that he is owed a qualifying offer of $3 million this offseason. While New Jersey can afford him as they currently have around $25 million in cap space, there may be more consistent options available in free agency for that price which could affect whether or not is qualified.
Fitzgerald could look into trading Zacha’s rights if there is a team that believes the struggling forward needs a change of scenery in order to reach his full potential.
The emergence of Dawson Mercer, offseason acquisitions, and young forwards competing for a lineup spot could make the decision easier for New Jersey as there may be limited roster space available for Zacha next year. While teams usually like to retain restricted free agents, there seems to be too many elements working against his return to the Devils next season.
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