The NHL’s free agency period opened on July 1, making it more than three weeks since the Florida Panthers announced they would be parting ways with living legend Jaromir Jagr. It also makes it about three weeks longer than most believed Jagr would be on the open market. But here we are, nearing August, and the 45-year-old remains without a contract. We’re not the only ones puzzled why.
Since the off-season started, Jagr has seemingly been pursuing his next big league opportunity, but the chance for the surefire Hall of Famer to continue his career hasn’t yet come about, and Jagr, speaking with reporters following a workout with his hometown team, HC Kladno, sounds just as puzzled as to why he doesn’t have a deal for next season. "I don’t think I am so bad that I couldn’t play (in the NHL),” Jagr said, according to Czech reporter Zdenek Janda.
And it’d be more than fair to say that Jagr’s assessment of his own ability is right on the money. Matter of fact, he’s probably selling himself short.
As has been well-documented, Jagr was remarkably effective this past season, posting 16 goals, 46 points and skating in all 82 games on an underwhelming Panthers club. Not only that, but even with it being his 44-year-old season, Jagr managed to average 17 minutes of ice time per night. That’s right: on a roster with a number of talented wingers, Jagr consistently found himself in a top-six role. And that’s no publicity stunt. He earned that spot alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, as even the players themselves would attest.
So, what’s holding Jagr back? Well, the only obvious knocks against the veteran are his age and his speed, both of which are valid. At 45, Jagr slotting into any lineup in the NHL this coming season would mean he’s taking a spot away from a potential up-and-coming talent. That’s why the Panthers chose to say goodbye to him — to make room for younger players — and it could be the reason several other teams are choosing to steer clear of the veteran. As for speed, in a game that’s getting faster every season, Jagr isn’t exactly blazing up the ice anymore.
But another issue, at least right now, could be the cost of bringing Jagr aboard. On each of his past three contracts, Jagr has had a base salary of at least $3.5 million with bonuses that can carry his final wage above the $5-million mark, and the lowest base salary he’s had since returning to the NHL from his KHL stint was $2 million back in 2013-14. The reason that can be a concern is this: per CapFriendly, more than two-thirds of the league's teams have less than $10 million in cap space. Teams with cash to spare may be wary of spending one-third of their available budget on a player as long in the tooth as Jagr, especially if a younger player can slot into the lineup and produce similar numbers for a fraction of the price.
That said, producing similar point totals is one thing. Providing the overall effectiveness, the leadership and guidance that Jagr can is another story entirely. In that sense, Jagr stands to be worth every cent he’s paid, particularly because it would be tough to actually find anyone who can do so. He’s worth $2 million-plus, and it’s really not a question.
And as far as physical ability, Jagr may not be the Art Ross-calibre scorer he was during his prime, but out of all the right wingers to play in the NHL over the past three seasons, only 19 have scored more goals than Jagr and only 12 have put up more points. He’s been a more effective scorer than the likes of Rick Nash, Justin Williams, Bobby Ryan, Brendan Gallagher and Craig Smith, and he’s in the same company as players like Kyle Okposo and T.J. Oshie. And while Jagr may not score with speed any longer, what he brings in pure puck-protecting strength is almost unparalleled, even at this point in his career.
Maybe more importantly in today’s game is the fact that even at his age, Jagr isn’t exactly a detriment when he’s on the ice, even when considered underlying statistics. Jagr’s Corsi For percentage in 2016-17 was 55.4, far better than many of his teammates, and even when away from Barkov, Jagr was able to contribute positively to the Panthers’ possession. Jagr was also 10th in goals for per 60 minutes and 11th in goals for percentage among right wingers who played at least 1,000 5-on-5 minutes in this past season.
So, sure, age and speed are two concerns that teams may have when considering Jagr, but he’s otherwise remained among the top players at his position and more than worth signing to a one-year deal. If a team, really any team, can find either the cap space or the roster spot to put Jagr into the middle-six of their lineup, they should be jumping at the chance. Because Jagr’s right, he’s not so bad that he can’t play in the big league. Rather, he’s still so good that he’s worth at least one more chance at the NHL, and whichever GM steps up with a contract for Jagr is going to benefit in a big way.
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