For Zajac, joining the Islanders meant the return of playing for Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello, who hand-selected Zajac back in the first round (20th overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft. While the entirety of Zajac's 15-year NHL career - including the 1,000 game milestone that he reached back on Feb. 21 - has been spent with the Devils organization, it took a special set of circumstances for the 35-year-old center to waive his no trade clause and join the Tri-State rivals.
"At this point in my career and where I'm at, I wanted a chance to win," Zajac said via conference call to the media on Wednesday night. "I believe this is a team that has all of the aspects of a winning hockey team. To be able to try and be a part of that and help them in any way possible, I'm really excited about that. For me, it was the right time. I was fortunate enough to have a great career in New Jersey and a lot of great memories, a lot of great people along the way; players, coaches, staff, but it just came down to - at this point - I want a chance to try and reach that ultimate goal."
The early season's of Zajac's career were competitive, as he joined the team in 2006, which was just four years removed from New Jersey's third Stanley Cup win. Zajac and the Devils would go on to make playoffs for six of his first seven years and even make a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.
But the last eight seasons have been a different story, with just one postseason appearance in that span. Now, Zajac is elated at the chance to join the Islanders, who with its 1-0 win over Washington on Tuesday night, are now tied for first place in the East Division and have set expectations for a Stanley Cup run.
Zajac joins the team with points in three of his last four games including three goals. Through 33 games this season, the right shot has totaled 18 points (7G, 11A).
"It gives you a jolt of energy," Zajac said of joining a Cup-contending team. "You're excited to come in this situation where you're coming to a team that does things the right way, they know how to win, they're tough to play against, they're consistent. It's exciting to be a part of that group and try and help any way possible. Whatever my role is, I'm going to try and do it to the best of my ability and help these guys."
For Palmieri - whose 11-year NHL career has been split between Anaheim and New Jersey - the connections to Long Island are plentiful. While the 30-year-old right winger grew up in New Jersey, he was born in Smithtown, Long Island and still resides out east during his offseasons.
"I have a house out on the North Fork on Long Island that I spend my summers at," Palmieri said via conference call on Wednesday night. "I have a bunch of family out in the Hauppauge, Commack area. I'm pretty familiar. My dad was a big surfer growing up so we always went out to the Long Island beaches. I'm really familiar with the area. I'm just really excited."
Leading up to Wednesday night's phone call, it had already been a whirlwind of a week for Palmieri. After sitting out Sunday's game against Buffalo with the Devils out of precaution, the nerves began to settle in, but that apprehension dissipated the instance Palmieri found out he'd be joining the Islanders.
Palmieri has been heating up lately having scored two goals in his last three games and posting 17 points (8G, 9A) through 34 games.
"When I heard that the Islanders could be an option, I couldn't have been more excited," Palmieri said. "As the days wore on here, there's a little bit of anxiety waiting for that call. I got that call tonight. It was really difficult to contain the excitement to join this team and this organization. The opportunity to go and be a part of a team that has a chance to do something special is what every player wants, that's all you could ask for. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."
For the Islanders, the additions of Zajac and Palmieri enhance the team on and off the ice. On the conference call, Lamoriello reiterated how crucial the team's chemistry is for him and his decision-making process which ultimately sent the Islanders first round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, a conditional fourth round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and prospects AJ Greer and Mason Jobst to the Devils in exchange for Zajac and Palmieri.
But with the history with Zajac and the extensive familiarity with Palmieri, Lamoriello has full confidence in the pairs ability to mesh with the tight-knit Islanders, just as he was assured it would be a seamless fit for former Devils defenseman Andy Greene, who joined the team at last year's trade deadline and former New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider, who signed with the Islanders in the offseason.
"You know what the player can bring on the ice as well as what he can bring off the ice," Lamoriello said. "If he could not do that whether he played for you or not, you would not make that acquisition. What [Zajac] brings on the ice and what he brings to a team atmosphere - on the ice and off the ice - similar with Kyle. It's very important that people accept whatever role is given to them. They sometimes give up their own identity to have success. That to me, is what I've seen Travis do year-in and year-out. Whatever he was asked to do, he did and he did it to the highest level. The same with Kyle, I've seen Kyle play from when he started playing high school hockey in New Jersey and the success he's had in the game."
Zajac and Palmieri will waste no time in joining the Islanders and are fortunate that given their proximity to the Long Island, they won't have to undergo any quarantine obligations and will join the Islanders for morning skate on Thursday ahead of a home game against Philadelphia.
Not only will Zajac and Palmieri have a friendly face in each other, but it'll be a mini reunion for them and Greene as well. And while it's been an eventful few days to say the least, Zajac and Palmieri are excited to build off the adrenaline they've already produced as they both begin new, exhilarating and determined starts of their hockey careers on Long Island that connect with ties back to their respective origins.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Zajac said. "Going with [Palmieri], knowing what he brings and the type of player he is. I know he's going to help this team and he's going to thrive in this situation. It's nice going into this situation where you're comfortable having someone to lean on. Not only having played with [Greene] and [Schneider], but having [Palmieri] there is going to be big too."