Last week, Jaromir Jagr, idol to us all, sent out this rather depressing tweet:
FA 1994- all GMs called , FA 2017- 0 calls🏆😀 pic.twitter.com/7uLJm95CAB
On the left is a chiseled Jagr from 1994, before a fair few of today’s NHLers were even born. Back then, Jagr had every team in the League in his ear, convincing him to come and play in their city. On the right though, is a far different Jagr. The man on the right is a recently redundant 45-year old, wondering if there is any hockey team out there that may inquire about his availability for next season.
Despite scoring 16 goals, 30 assists and 46 points last season, Jagr was recently told by the Florida Panthers that he would not be re-signed this off-season. A team that missed the playoffs was voluntarily forgoing their third best points producer from the previous season, just one campaign removed from a stunning 66-point year.
Even more spectacular about that 27 goal, 39 assist season was that Jagr turned 44 midway through it. The Czech was in the midst of becoming the most productive 40+ year old in NHL history, even more so than Gordie Howe. Now, just one season later, Jagr had once again hit free agency, and his phone has not rung once.
Despite annually forgoing father time, the old, presumably white-bearded fellow is still undefeated, and whilst Jagr may currently be winning this battle, the war at large looks like it may be winding down.
Direction of the League
Jagr’s joblessness is not a slight at the man himself. It’s more a recognition of the direction in which the League is heading. One of the NHL’s best defensemen, Niklas Hjalmarsson, went through a similar epiphany a few weeks ago, when he was traded from the Chicago Blackhawks – a team with which he won three Stanley Cups.
Connor Murphy, Hjalmarsson’s replacement, may never be as good as ‘The Hammer’, but in 2017, he is simply “more correct” than him. He is younger, he’s faster, and more modern than his predecessor.
Is there anybody out there?
However, despite the sound of silence that besets Jagr, there is still a team(s) out there that could use him; nay, is in need of him. One of them he has already played for – the New York Rangers. If you can remember back that far, Jagr played 4 seasons and 277 games for the Rangers between 2003 and 2008, racking up 319 points in the form of 124 goals and 195 assists.
Off the back of a promising year, the Rangers have hit the ground running in free agency, picking up the top defenseman on the open market – Kevin Shattenkirk – and getting him on a very reasonable contract. But the Rangers have lost production up front this month. Derek Stepan and Oscar Lindberg represent 75 missing points the team will need to replace, and Jagr represents a way they could replace anywhere up to 46 of them rather cheaply.
Another area in which Jagr can assist his former team is in the Corsi department. Last year, the Rangers ranked 19th in 5-on-5 Corsi, one position above Florida, Jagr’s most recent squad. Whilst his skills are slowly declining, Jagr’s strength and balance render him still a valuable asset for a team looking to improve puck protection.
Puckalytics has him ranked 8th among forwards over the last decade in age-relative Corsi. Essentially, if you’re looking for cheap experience, reliable production, and puck possession, you can’t go wrong with Jagr. If nothing else, Jagr could help the Rangers protect the puck, play on the power play, and pop up for a goal or assist every once in a while, especially in the playoffs, in which Jagr has been to 18 times.
When looking at other teams that could do with a leg up in Jagr’s area of expertise, you may notice the Winnipeg Jets. Last year, Winnipeg finished just seven points out of the playoffs, but finished 27th in Corsi for, and 18th in power play percentage. Jagr remedies both these areas for a team strewn with young talent and looking to push towards the playoffs. Speaking of youth, the Jets are also the second youngest team in the league. You’re telling me they couldn’t use Jagr?
Speaking of age, who else ranks closer to the bottom in this department? The Arizona Coyotes are the youngest team in the NHL, with an average age of 25.8, but the Columbus Blue Jackets are the third youngest, at 26.2. Columbus made the playoffs last year, but was bounced in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have talked of their willingness to add scoring this off-season, and did so by trading for Artemi Panarin.
Jagr, a full 20 years older than Panarin, is of course not the same level of impact scorer that the Blue Jackets would be after, but they did express a desire to add Ilya Kovalchuk, who is definitely on the older side. The Jackets have also long desired Colorado Avalanche centre Matt Duchene. If talks fall through, Jagr, whilst not a centre, could potentially be a good contingency plan. After all, Jagr’s 46 points in 2016-17 better Duchene’s 41, with Jagr having only played in 4 more games.
Perhaps every team in the league could use Jagr in some role. After all, 23 seasons of NHL experience is not exactly readily available skating around on every rink in the world. Perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights could be a destination for Jagr. They tell us they’ve reached their limit on season tickets, but Jagr is exciting, popular, and loved by hockey fans everywhere. Or even the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he spent 11 seasons with, for one last Stanley Cup hurrah.
It is still early on in free agency, and it would be surprising if Jagr were not playing in the NHL next year. He’s simply too experienced, too productive, and would not be after much at all.
There is a team out there that Jaromir Jagr belongs on. They just don’t know it yet.