After an entire summer spent anticipating free agency, it only took three days for former Colorado College goaltender Matt Zaba to find a home with an NHL organization.
A free agent since Wednesday, Zaba signed a one-year contract with the New York Rangers on Saturday and expects to attend the Rangers’ training camp, which begins Sept. 8, or the camp of one of the Rangers’ farm teams.
“It’s a huge relief,” said Zaba, from his home in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. “That was really stressful waiting for the phone to ring. I had no control over the situation and it was very hard.”
The contract is a two-way deal, which means that Zaba will be paid an NHL salary only if he makes the Rangers’ roster, otherwise he’ll be paid according to American Hockey League or East Coast Hockey League pay scales.
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2003 (eighth round, 231st overall), Zaba knew since mid-July that the Kings would not sign him before the Aug. 15 free agency deadline, confirming doubts that began in April 2006 when the organization replaced general manager Dave Taylor with Dean Lombardi.
“My feeling was that I wanted to get my foot in the door,” Zaba said. “I wanted to get into an organization and have a good year. That’s what I’m most excited about, is having an opportunity.”
With just four goaltender prospects in the Rangers’ system including Zaba, he will be competing for a spot for either the Rangers’ AHL or ECHL affiliate, the Hartford (Conn.) Wolf Pack or the Charlotte (N.C.) Checkers, respectively.
The Rangers used their second pick in the 2007 draft to select goaltender Antoine Lafleur, who plays in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, in the second round (48th overall), and have just two goaltending prospects in the system left from the 2006-07 season, Al Montoya and Chris Holt.
Even though Zaba will have to adjust to the speed of professional hockey, he said his experience at the Kings’ prospects camp during the past four summers will be a boon.
“That way it won’t be a huge shock, it’s not like I’m going into uncharted territory,” he said.
Zaba, who graduated in May, started for the Tigers for the past two seasons and split time during his freshman and sophomore years.
CC coach Scott Owens was not surprised that Zaba landed a contract.
“He deserves an opportunity,” Owens said. “He had a great career for us. His second half last season was as good as anybody I’ve seen since I’ve been (at CC). Even though it didn’t always translate to wins, his play was consistent and very good. I think he can establish himself in the AHL and hopefully get an opportunity from there.”