Florida Panthers add Jaromir Jagr for playoff run
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jaromir Jagr hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1992. The Florida Panthers have never hoisted hockey's holiest grail, chasing it since their inception in 1993.
And now their paths will surprisingly align, with hope of completing those quests.
Chasing a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers acquired Jagr - who turned 43 earlier this month - from the New Jersey Devils on Thursday for two draft picks, a second-rounder this year and either Florida or Minnesota's third-round selection in 2016.
''We're headed in the right direction,'' said Florida general manager Dale Tallon, whose team entered Thursday two points from the eighth and final playoff spot in the East race. ''I'm excited about him coming here and just spending some time with him and watching him play. He's an exciting guy to watch play. He's still got it.''
In Florida, Jagr will find a dressing room with a mix of veterans and up-and-comers. Goaltender Roberto Luongo turns 36 in April, defenseman Willie Mitchell is 37 - but none of the team's top three scorers so far this season (Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad) is older than 22.
''We want to win,'' Tallon said. ''We want to win a championship and we're putting the pieces together step-by-step and we're hopeful that Jaromir can lead these young guys to the promised land. It's a win-win for us.''
Jagr had 11 goals and 18 assists in 57 games this season for New Jersey. His playing time has been cut recently and he has gone eight games without a point, the longest such drought of his NHL career.
Tallon isn't worried.
''Still outstanding,'' Tallon said. ''Great to watch.''
The Czech star has 716 goals, one shy of Phil Esposito for fifth-most in NHL history, along with 78 goals and 121 assists in 202 playoff games. He helped Pittsburgh win Stanley Cup titles in his first two seasons in the NHL in 1990-91 and 1991-92, plus won an Olympic gold medal in 1998.
Jagr has 1,784 points in 1,530 career regular-season games in 22 years with Pittsburgh, Washington, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston and New Jersey. He also spent three seasons playing in Russia before returning to the NHL in 2011.
Panthers owner Vincent Viola signed off on the deal, which was finalized Thursday afternoon.
''We're buyers. We're committed to winning,'' Tallon said. ''That's what Vinnie has said all along and what we've all said all along.''
Jagr had a hat trick in New Jersey's 5-2 win over Philadelphia on Jan. 3. He's managed two goals and two assists in 17 games since, averaging about 16 minutes of ice time per night - 3 minutes shy of what he was getting on average in the season's first 40 games.
''Jaromir never came to me. We never had a discussion about a trade,'' Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. ''We never had a discussion about where, when, how, why. That is not somerthing we feel is the way you should operate with players. You have to think of what is best for the organization.''
Jagr is expected to arrive in South Florida on Friday, and to play when Florida hosts Buffalo on Saturday afternoon.
It's an odd marriage of sorts, given that Jagr has been in the league longer than the Panthers have. His NHL debut was Oct. 5, 1990; the Panthers played their first game Oct. 6, 1993. But Tallon has wanted Jagr in Florida for some time, trying unsuccessfully to sign him in the past, and the Panthers are hopeful that he stays with them for at least next season.
''I think it's very important to send a message to the team that we're committed, and we expect them to be committed as well,'' Tallon said.
Tallon said ''a half-dozen'' other teams were trying to land Jagr as well, including some jostling with Florida for a spot in the East playoff picture.
''You've got to pay to get something special like this,'' Tallon said. ''And we were willing to do that.''
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.